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mercoledì 2 agosto 2017
11-year-old girl kidnapped, raped, murdered by 28-year-old
Gasps and escalating sobs filled the courtroom as Tom Begaye Jr. acknowledged Tuesday what he did to an 11-year-old girl last year.
Begaye, 28, pleaded guilty in federal court to six counts that include murder and sexual assault. The plea agreement calls for him to spend the rest of his life in prison.
“Yes,” Begaye answered when asked if he admitted to kidnapping Ashlynne Mike and her brother.
He repeated the word when asked if he took Ashlynne to the Shiprock rock formation and raped her, strangled her, beat her head and face with a tire iron and left her to die.
As he admitted to graphic details of the crimes, dozens of Ashlynne’s family and supporters fought to hold back cries.
“I think we all knew he was guilty. It took him this long to admit that,” Gary Mike, Ashlynne’s father, said after the hearing. “It puts some sort of ending to that chapter. Our next step is to begin to heal.”
U.S. District Judge William “Chip” Johnson told Begaye during the hearing that there won’t be a chance for release at some point.
“In the federal system … when you are sentenced to life it means life,” Johnson said. Begaye’s sentencing hearing hasn’t been scheduled.
The case rocked the Navajo Nation and has led to a series of reforms to try to address child safety and improve communication between the tribe and local law enforcement agencies, said Amber Kanazbah Crotty, a council delegate for several Navajo communities near where Ashlynne was murdered.
“What shocked the nation to the core is what this individual did to such a beautiful little spirit,” Crotty said. “We want Ashlynne remembered as being full of life.”
Reforms that resulted from the case addressed communication problems that affected its early stages. Ashlynne Mike’s family has a pending lawsuit against the tribe over its handling of the incident.
Ashlynne’s father reported her missing around 7 p.m. on May 2, 2016. But the FBI wasn’t notified for two hours, a search for her wasn’t organized until about 2 a.m. and an Amber Alert wasn’t issued until 2:30 a.m., according to the lawsuit.
Ashlynne’s body was found at 11 a.m. on May 3 of last year, and a criminal complaint charging Begaye was filed on May 4.
Around the time Ashlynne’ body was found, San Juan County Sheriff’s deputies spoke with Begaye at a gas station off the reservation in connection with the Amber Alert. But the deputies let him go as they weren’t in communication with authorities investigating Ashlynne’s disappearance on the reservation and didn’t have probable cause to detain him.
Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said in a prepared statement Tuesday that the tribe is making reforms to help better protect children in the wake of the case.
“The Navajo Nation is taking every step necessary to strengthen our laws and emergency response communication system,” he said. “We are furthering the implementation of an Amber Alert System to protect our children from horrendous crimes such as this one.”