Second-degree murder charge made in death of Hopi High teacher
POLACCA, Ariz. — Byron Woody has been indicted and charged with second-degree murder in the suspected murder of Kenneth Wartz.
The Navajo-Hopi Observer reported on some details of this case April 24 and was recently informed an indictment had been handed down by the FBI for Woody in Ocotber 2018.
Woody, who is Navajo, has been arrested and charged in the U.S. District Court of Arizona.
The indictment stated that on or about July 29, 2018, on the Hopi Reservation Woody “with malice aforethought, did unlawfully kill K.S.W.”
The FBI did not release any other information, but said further inquiries can be directed to the U.S. Attorney’s office.
Jill McCabe, public affairs specialist for the FBI in Phoenix, said in a written statement that the FBI would like to reiterate that “the FBI has a strong, long-standing commitment to investigating violent crime in Indian country and pursuing justice for victims and their families.”
“Every day our special agents work alongside our federal and tribal law enforcement partners to investigate violent crimes on the reservations including homicides, drug offences and violence against women and children,” she said.
McCabe said many of its agents and victim specialists who work Indian crime say it is the most rewarding work of their careers because they make a difference in the lives of tribal members and Native victims.
“As in all of our cases, our focus is on the quality of the investigation rather than an artificial timeline that may compromise the case and ultimately justice for the affected communities and victims,” she said.
McCabe said the FBI is committed to protecting all communities, helping victims and ensuring justice is served.
Hopi Chairman Timothy Nuvangyaoma said he was happy to hear that someone was charged and in custody. However, the chairman said he has been talking with the U.S. Department of Justice about the need for open communication.
“That’s still not happening,” Nuvangyaoma said. “It’s good that there was an arrest, but we need more details.”
Nuvangyaoma said the Hopi BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) police have recently been investigating suspects and witnesses.
Nuvangyaoma said this investigation is ongoing and he said communication with the Hopi BIA police has improved, but continues to be a work in progress.
Nuvangyaoma said details in the the First Mesa suspected murder remains limited. The suspected murder occurred in March when Wilfred Huma, an elderly man, was killed.
Nuvangyaoma said the details in the Huma case remains limited.
Ivan Sidney, administrator at First Mesa Consolidated Villages, said it was good to hear that an arrest was made and the reservation will be safer.
“Wow. That’s good to hear because we’ve been kept in the dark. It’s scary when murders are not resolved and someone is walking around,” he said.
Sidney said he was glad to hear the other suspected murder case was being actively investigated as well.
“The village is concerned that youth were involved. That’s never happened in the history of Hopi if they are under 18,” he said.
Sidney said the village wants to put this case behind them and move on.
He said he feels safer knowing this case is being investigated.
Sidney, a former Hopi police chief, said he’s still sensitive to the job that the FBI and the U.S. District Attorney’s office has because individual rights still need to be respected.
Sidney said First Mesa Consolidated Villages is holding meetings about protecting its residents.
“We need to establish our own protection because we can’t totally rely on the police,” he said. “There are ongoing concerns.”
According to Sidney, the village needs to work cooperatively with the Hopi police.
“I want to see more communication,” he said.
Additionally, Sidney said Hopi is in need of a detention center. He said the detention center at Hopi was never properly funded.
“Without gaming, we don’t have much money,” he said. “That’s up to the people.”
Nuvangyaoma said negotiations are moving forward for the Hopi Tribe to take over the Hopi BIA police.
“We think we can do a better job,” he said.
Nuvangyaoma said the incident at First Mesa was a big deal and they have to find a way to make sure people are safe.
Public Law 93-638 gave Indian tribes the authority to contract with the federal government to operate programs serving their tribal members and other eligible persons. But whether the Hopi Tribe has enough funds to do this adequately is up for debate.
(Ed. Note: The Navajo-Hopi Observer reported on this case two weeks ago without including that an indictment had been handed down in October 2018.)