Navajo man sentenced to life for kidnapping, assault of 11-year-old Ashlynne Mike

Pamela Foster, foreground, and Gary Mike, center background, parents of Ashlynne Mike, prepare to make a statement after their daughter’s killer Tom Begaye was sentenced to life in prison, Friday, Oct. 20, 2017 outside of a federal courthouse in downtown Albuquerque, N.M.. Tom Begaye was sentenced Friday to life in prison without parole as part of a plea deal in the 2016 rape and murder of 11-year-old Ashlynne Mike. Roberto E. Rosales/The Albuquerque Journal via AP

Pamela Foster, foreground, and Gary Mike, center background, parents of Ashlynne Mike, prepare to make a statement after their daughter’s killer Tom Begaye was sentenced to life in prison, Friday, Oct. 20, 2017 outside of a federal courthouse in downtown Albuquerque, N.M.. Tom Begaye was sentenced Friday to life in prison without parole as part of a plea deal in the 2016 rape and murder of 11-year-old Ashlynne Mike. Roberto E. Rosales/The Albuquerque Journal via AP

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Ashlynne Mike. Submitted photo

ALBUQUERQUE — A district judge in New Mexico sentenced a Navajo man to a term of life imprisonment without the possibility of release for his conviction in the rape and murder May 2, 2016 of Ashlynne Mike, an 11-year-old Navajo child.

U.S. District Judge William P. Johnson of the District of New Mexico sentenced Tom Begaye, Jr., 29, to a term of life imprisonment without the possibility of release for his conviction on murder, aggravated sexual abuse and kidnapping charges arising out of the abduction, rape and murder of Ashlynne Mike.

Johnson said the crimes perpetrated against Mike were so heinous he was at a loss for words.

“It is my hope that the pain will diminish as time goes on,” Judge Johnson said.

During the proceedings, Mike’s mom Pam Foster said her life changed forever when her daughter was murdered. Foster said she has no pity for Tom Begaye Jr. and hoped he would be prosecuted to the fullest extent.

“A part of me died with Ashlynne,” she said. “In the morning, I listen for her voice and my arms long to hold her. My angel did not deserve to die the way she did.”

Gary Mike, Ashlynne’s father, said no family should ever have to go through what his family did in losing their daughter.

“We have to put an end to his intention,” Mike said. “We ask that he never sees freedom again.”

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said the Nation has mourned the loss of Ashlynne Mike since learning of her horrific death.          

“The sheer brutality of the crimes committed against this child were so deplorable that it was difficult to fathom justice in this matter,” Begaye said. “Tom Begaye Jr., received life in prison today for kidnapping, raping, strangling and ultimately killing Ashlynne Mike. In hearing the details of these tragic crimes, we feel just as Ashlynne’s family and her home community feel:  can justice truly be served in this case?  No child deserves to die in this way and the Navajo Nation will continue to work to strengthen protections for all our children and tribal members.”

Acting U.S. Attorney James D. Tierney commended the FBI and the Navajo Nation Department of Public Safety for their efforts during the investigation of Tom Begaye Jr.’s crimes and he thanked all the law enforcement partners who came together with the common goal of finding Tom Begaye Jr. and bringing him to justice.

“Today’s hearing brings to a close the criminal case against Tom Begaye, Jr., and the sentence of life imprisonment holds him fully accountable for kidnapping, sexually assaulting and murdering Ashlynne Mike and for the trauma he inflicted on her brother,” Tierney said. “Although the prosecution is over, the pain and loss experienced by Ashlynne’s family and community will continue well into the future.”

Terry Wade, special agent in charge of the Albuquerque Division of the FBI, said the FBI and its tribal and other partners worked together to bring Ashlynne’s killer to justice.

“The man responsible for one of the worst tragedies to hit the Navajo Nation is going to prison for a long time,” he said. “Many people who never met Ashlynne joined to share their grief with her family, and we hope today’s sentencing gives them some measure of solace.”

Jesse Delmar, director of the Navajo Nation Division of Public Safety, also thanked the Navajo Nation law enforcement personnel, the FBI, the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for their work on the case and for bringing justice to the victim and her family.

“This case was very unfortunate because of the age of the victim,” Delmar said. “The Navajo people cherish our little young ones, and so this case was so extreme and so shocking to us all.  It was especially hard for the law enforcement personnel who had to deal with this case directly. Today has been an emotional day for all of us as we continue to grieve the loss of our little one, our Ashlynn Mike.”

The FBI and Navajo Nation Division of Public Safety arrested Begaye, an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation from Waterflow, New Mexico May 4, 2016, on a criminal complaint charging Begaye with kidnapping, sexually abusing and murdering an 11-year-old Navajo child May 2, 2016, on the Navajo Reservation in San Juan County, New Mexico.  On May 24, 2016, a federal grand jury returned an indictment charging Begaye with six offenses:  first-degree murder, felony murder, kidnapping resulting in death, aggravated sexual abuse resulting in death (two counts), and kidnapping of a minor. According to the indictment, Begaye killed a female child under the age of 12 years by striking her with a tire iron, and caused her death while kidnapping and sexually assaulting her.  The indictment also charged Begaye with kidnapping a second victim, a male child under the age of 18 years.

Begaye pled guilty Aug. 1, 2017, to all six-counts of the indictment.  In his plea agreement, Begaye admitted kidnapping the 11-year-old victim and her 9-year-old brother on May 2, 2016, by tricking the children into getting into his van by offering to drive them to their home.  Instead, Begaye drove them to a location near the Shiprock Monument where he led the victim away from the van to an area beyond her brother’s field of view.  Begaye sexually assaulted the victim before killing her by strangling her and repeatedly hitting her on the head and face with a tire iron.  Begaye then returned to his van, directed the victim’s brother to get out of the van, and drove away, leaving the child behind. 

The FBI and Navajo Nation Division of Public Safety investigated the case with assistance from the FBI Child Abduction Rapid Deployment Team, U.S. Marshals Service, New Mexico State Police, San Juan County Sheriff’s Office and the Farmington Police Department.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Niki Tapia-Brito and Jennifer M. Rozzoni prosecuted the case.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecuted Begaye under its anti-violence initiative, which targets “the worst of the worst” offenders for federal prosecution.  Under this initiative, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and federal law enforcement agencies work with New Mexico’s District Attorneys and state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies to target violent or repeat offenders for federal prosecution primarily based on their prior criminal convictions with the goal of removing repeat offenders from communities in New Mexico for as long as possible.

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