All charges against a defendant in the killing of two Navajo tribal police officers were dropped Friday afternoon, leaving three men still on trial. Also Friday, defense witnesses contradicted statements by prosecution witnesses.
A crucial part of the prosecution's case collapsed in the case of the four men who were accused of killing Navajo tribal officers Roy Lee Stanley and Andy Begay last Dec. 4.Assistant U.S. Attorney Stewart Walz moved for and got dismissal of charges against Marques Atene, saying there was insufficient evidence to convict him.
"I feel happy and glad to be out of the charges," Marques Atene said in the court's hallway immediately afterward.
Asked by the Deseret News what happened that night, he said, "I don't know about it. I stayed home. They charged me with the things I didn't do it."
Lawyers for remaining defendants Vinton Bedonie, Thomas Cly and Ben Atene Jr. moved for dismissal, but Judge J. Thomas Greene denied the motions. The defense then began putting its witnesses on the stand.
Tall Litsui, a medicine man, testified he conducted a healing ceremony for Albert Atene, full brother of defendant Ben Atene Jr. and half-brother of defendant Vinton Bedonie. Other witnesses established the ceremony as lasting from sundown on Thursday, Dec. 3, until sunrise on Saturday, Dec. 6.
The officers were shot late the night of Dec. 4 or early the morning of Dec. 5. In previous testimony, Albert Atene was said to be at the bonfire where the officers were shot.
Boyd Atene described the "dress-up shirt" he said Albert Atene wore to the bonfire, and said Albert was on crutches.
But in conflicting testimony, Litsui said Friday that Albert Atene was with him during the entire "Blessing Way" ceremony.
"He just went out for bathroom purposes," Litsui said through a translator. "He never went anywhere else."
Assistant U.S. Attorney David Schwendiman established that Albert Atene put on new clothes during the ceremony and was supposed to wear them four days.
The medicine man said he woke up Friday night, Dec. 4, and saw Albert Atene there around 11 p.m., about an hour before an all-night ceremony started. Could Albert Atene have left while Litsui was asleep Friday night?
"If he would have went anywhere, I would have noticed that," he replied. "The thing I'm telling you is the truth."
Albert Atene, 21, Oljato, testified that he spent the entire time at the ceremony in his parents' hogan, except for a few times he went to the rest room in the adjacent house they owned - never for more than 10 minutes at a time.
He said he saw Ben Atene Jr. there about 8 p.m. Friday and at the concluding ceremony before dawn Saturday, at around 5 a.m. He said he saw Vinton Bedonie there about 10 p.m. Friday and at the concluding ceremony.
His wife, Leora Atene, gave similar testimony.
Earlier, as the prosecution was winding up, FBI Special Agent Kay Brooks testified he interviewed Cly on April 15, the day he was arrested. Cly told him he was drunk the night of the killings, Brooks said, but he remembered hearing Begay's voice that night.
According to Brooks' notes, Cly said, "Andy Begay's voice said something to the effect, `Hey boys, what's going on?' "
That was apparently when Begay drove up to the bonfire where an illegal beer party was taking place. Other witnesses testified Officer Stanley was shot there before Begay arrived.
Brooks said that Cly told him, "I seem to remember the panels (the officers' panel trucks) burning." The trucks were apparently doused with gasoline and torched in Copper Canyon, according to an FBI arson specialist.
To this point, only Boyd Atene has claimed to have witnessed the trucks burning. He said he was forced to drive Stanley's truck to Copper Canyon after the shootings at the bonfire.
When Begay arrived, Boyd Atene said, Vinton Bedonie pulled Stanley's gun on the second officer.
Begay got out and Bedonie walked him behind Stanley's panel truck. "I heard another two shots. That's it."
People ran back to their trucks and drove away, he said.
He claimed two men who have not been charged in the case "had blood on their pants and shirts," possibly from lifting one officer or both into the trucks.
A convoy of four trucks headed to Copper Canyon, according to testimony. Then Stanley's truck got stuck in wet sand. Nobody was able to free it.
Boyd Atene got out and walked around, "trying to figure a way to get out of there." He feared that if he walked back, the others would go after him.
He said he saw Bedonie go into one of the police trucks and throw things from it onto a mesa. Ben Atene was throwing things too, he said.
Officers have testified about finding objects on the mesa.
He said he saw Thomas Cly with what he thought was a five-gallon gas can. "Ben and Thomas opened both doors of the panel (truck) and Thomas spilled, he just poured gas in and out" of both police trucks.
Suddenly, he saw the trucks burning. Boyd Atene said the fire was so huge he felt the heat 50 yards away.
A medical examiner testified both officers died in the blaze.
When they drove away, he said, Bedonie told him "not to tell or say anything about it."