Whether justice is done in the case of two Navajo tribal officers killed the night of Dec. 4-5, 1987, depends on whether the jury believes five eyewitnesses, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Schwendiman told the panel Thursday.
Schwendiman delivered closing arguments Thursday morning in which he defended the five witnesses, saying they have no reason to lie about what they saw but every reason not to want to testify about the killings of officers Roy Lee Stanley and Andy Begay.The terrible events were etched into the memories of the witnesses because they were shocked and concerned about their own lives. Defendants Thomas Cly, Vinton Bedoni and Ben Atene Jr. tried to involve some of the witnesses in an attempt to make them participants so they would not tell anyone, Schwendiman said.
He admitted the eyewitnesses had changed their stories. They only wanted to live normal lives, but after the killings, "they are not the same people they were when they went to that wash to have a good time," Schwendiman said.
"Their world has been set on its head by what they saw."
He took them through the stages of the crime as reconstructed by prosecutors, saying that after Stanley was kicked and injured in a fight, he was handcuffed and his gun was taken. Then he was forced to call Begay to the scene, Schwendiman contended. Begay too was shot when he arrived.
The evidence stage ended Wednesday afternoon in the trial of three Navajos accused of killing the tribal police officers.
Bedoni, Cly and Ben Atene Jr. are charged with first-degree murder in the killings, which prosecutors say happened on the Utah portion of the Navajo Reservation near Monument Valley, San Juan County.
A fourth defendant, Marques Atene, was released Friday when prosecutors admitted they did not have enough evidence against him.
An unexpected battle swirled around one of the last witnesses Wednesday, when Assistant U.S. Attorney Stewart Walz called the principal of Monument Valley High School to the witness stand. The principal, Richard McMullin, was asked about the reputation of the defendants for truthfulness.
Defense lawyers immediately objected, but Walz said he had a right to attack the credibility of any witness - including the defendants themselves, who all testified.
At first Greene seemed to agree, telling Walz, "You're rebutting something that hasn't been offered as evidence." But after consulting case law, Greene allowed the prosecutors to proceed.
McMullin said probably about 2,000 people live in the Oljato-Monument Valley vicinity, with homes often about a mile apart. He's been principal of the high school for three years, and he knows the defendants, he said.
"I would say that I wouldn't rely on him for truthfulness," he said of Cly. Then he said he wouldn't rely on Bedoni or Ben Atene Jr., either.
Asked to describe the defendants' reputations, the principal said the reputations of all three are "low" among those with whom he associates.
Defense attorney Ed Brass demanded to know who those are, and McMullin said they were primarily people associated with the school.
How many non-Navajos are at the school? asked Brass. McMullin said the staff totals 23, with four teachers being Navajos and more Navajos who are not teachers.
Asked to speak in the Navajo language, McMullin said, "I don't know Navajo, sir." Indians in the audience laughed at that.
"But I have lived on the reservation for 20 years," he continued.
"You've lived on the reservation 20 years and you don't know Navajo," Brass said.
"I know words," McMullin said.