2 sentenced in murder case

Men get maximum penalties for roles in Ignacio crime

Two men who participated in last year’s shooting death of an Ignacio man were sentenced Tuesday in District Court to the maximum possible penalty allowed under each of their plea agreements.

Jeremiah Mason, 22, was sentenced to six years in prison, and Armondo Yazzie was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Both are from New Mexico.

Both men pleaded guilty to being an accessory to murder and conspiracy to commit robbery. They signed separate plea agreements with the 6th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.

They are suspected of accompanying Farmington resident Tommy Lee Mitchell, among others, on a trip intended to rob Joey Benavidez of $700 he owed as part of a drug deal, according to statements made Tuesday in court.

Instead, Benavidez was gunned down a year ago today inside his home on Mountain Dew Circle in the Cedar Point subdivision, a couple of miles southwest of Ignacio.

District Judge Jeffrey Wilson called it “one of the most cold-blooded murders that has happened in this county.”

Prosecutors have identified Mitchell as a ringleader and a triggerman. Mason and Yazzie probably didn’t know Mitchell was going to commit a murder, but those who accompanied him didn’t try to prevent it, and they initially helped to cover it up, said District Attorney Todd Risberg.

Both men apologized to the Benavidez’s family before sentencing.

Mason’s Durango defense lawyer, Becky Briggs, said Mason is of low intellect and made poor decisions about who to associate with. Otherwise, he is a hard worker with no adult criminal record.

He was facing two to six years after signing a plea agreement.

Yazzie’s defense lawyer, William Herringer, who is soon to become a district judge, said Yazzie grew up surrounded by people who were associated with gangs. But he defied the odds by going to community college and setting out a different path.

He thought he was giving Mitchell a ride in exchange for a small amount of marijuana, Herringer said. He had no idea a homicide was about to take place.

Herringer compared it to putting a frog in a pot of water and turning up the heat. Once he was involved, he was committed. But had he known what was going to happen up front, he never would have become involved.

As one of the drivers, Yazzie was facing two to 10 years in prison after signing a plea agreement.

In the days immediately after the homicide, he continued to give Mitchell rides, including to dispose of guns, Risberg said. He also gave Mitchell a haircut to help disguise his identity, Risberg said.

Other defendants include Shanice Smith, 20, of Farmington, who was sentenced in February to eight years in prison, and Elijah Anglin, 19, who is set for a hearing May 2.

Mitchell, who is charged with first-degree murder, is set for trial June 17. Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty.

shane@durangoherald.com

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