The convictions of two Navajos in the December murders of a pair of tribal policemen has friends and family on both sides fearful that a bitter feud may wrack the serenity of Monument Valley.
Although the case was tried and judged in U.S. District Court here by white prosecutors, defense attorneys and jurors, with the exception of one Hispanic, it is the Navajo people of southeastern Utah, struggling to balance tribal tradition and the realities of the modern world, who must live with the consequences."I'm sure there's going to be some problems - there's been some threats," said a friend of one of the slain officer's family who asked that her name not be used.
"Everything's clan down here," she said. "The police don't get support from the people or their leaders . . . people believe it's better to take care of things themselves."
On Tuesday, after more than 46 hours of deliberation, the jury found Thomas Cly, 22, and Vinton Bedoni, 33, guilty of first-degree murder in the deaths of Officers Roy Lee Stanley and Andy Begay.
Prosecutors contended the officers, themselves Navajo, were trying to break up a Dec. 4 drinking party - alcohol is forbidden on the Navajo Reservation - when they were beaten, shot, placed in the prisoner cage of a police panel truck and burned to death in a remote canyon near Lake Powell.
The jurors could not agree on a verdict for defendant Ben Atene Jr., 22, who prosecutors say will be retried. A fourth defendant, Marques Atene, half-brother to Bedoni and Ben Atene Jr., was freed early in the eight-day trial when prosecutors acknowledged the weakness of their case against him.
For the jurors, the way to a verdict was a tortuous journey through divergent testimony with conflicting scenarios for the night of the slayings.
While prosecution witnesses placed the defendants at the party and testified to their involvement in the killings, many admitted having changed their stories as they related them first to investigators, then to a federal grand jury and finally on the stand - although each said the final version was the truth.
The Atenes and Bedoni and other family members who practice the traditional Navajo religion swore they were at a ritual healing ceremony for another brother. Cly, of a Christian family, said he was drinking whiskey and four-wheeling in another part of the reservation.
After the verdict, members of Cly's and Bedoni's family accused the prosecution witnesses of lying for a share of the $10,000 reward for information leading to convictions in the slayings.
And the next day, U.S. Attorney Brent Ward warned that some defense witnesses might be subject to perjury charges following Atene's second trial.
On the reservation, the tensions have run high ever since the killings, and Wilson Barber, Navajo Area Director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Window Rock, Ariz., says the stress between the involved families and clans can only continue.
"Certainly this has the basis of a long-term feud," he said.
But Barber, a Navajo, blames the viciousness of the killings on a lethal combination of drugs, alcohol, resentment and anger.