An autumn evening in 2007 that began with three Navajo members drinking and ended with one dead and the other two serving time in prison after an ill-fated union of alcohol and violence came before the U.S. 10th Circuit Court on December 12, when the two were unsuccessful in appealing their 5-year sentences.
According to their appeals, Patrick Talk and his cousin, Kenneth Martinez, had argued with a third man, Lance Ortiz, who was with Shawn Begay, the victim in a subsequent fight. Talk and Martinez were confronted by Ortiz and Begay at Martinez’ home in Iyanbito, New Mexico, located within the exterior boundaries of the Navajo Indian Reservation.
Several other people were there, but “everyone present had been drinking alcohol that evening” and a fight broke out between the two groups. Begay, who was “extremely drunk” simply “stood back watching and did not fight with anyone,” court records showed, and his “intoxication left him defenseless.”
Nevertheless, Talk pushed Begay to the ground, where Talk and Martinez “repeatedly hit and kicked him in the chest and head,” the court said, though Begay “was so inebriated that not once did he throw a punch or even attempt to defend himself” and lay motionless on the ground.
Talk also admitted using a shovel to hit a woman who was there and considered hitting her on the head “but decided not to because he did not want to kill her,” according to a presentence report.
Begay was taken to the hospital, unconscious and inebriated, nearly nine hours after he was attacked. He died from his injuries without ever regaining consciousness, the court said.
Both Talk and Begay were sentenced in district court after they pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter. Talk later said the court did not explain why he received the same sentence as Martinez’ nor why his sentence was longer than the federal sentencing range for aggravated assault. Martinez argued against an enhanced sentence that stemmed from Begay’s designation as a vulnerable victim.
The appeals court upheld the lower court which said of Talk’s argument about his sentence’s length that “a sentence within the recommended range of 24-30 months does not reflect the seriousness of this offense, promote respect for the law or provide a just punishment in this case.” A district court does not have to explain why co-defendants receive different or the same sentences, the three-judge appeals panel noted.
The appeals court also rejected Martinez’ argument that Begay was not unusually vulnerable and denied Martinez’ further assertion that in any case he could not have known Begay was vulnerable because Martinez himself was “involuntarily intoxicated” as a result of becoming an alcoholic as a minor.