A Navajo Nation sheepherder stands accused of murdering two neighbors in a fight over grazing after their goats wandered onto his land.
Two men, Elvin Tachine and son Laveil Natoni, were found shot in the chest outside of Pinion last week, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
According to FBI investigators, another son, Sheldon Lee Natoni, had gone after the family goats, which had wandered off on March 30. Tachine told Sheldon to return home and tended to the goats himself.
Sheldon later told investigators that as he was leaving, the suspect found Tachine and told him to "get off my land," court documents said. In response, Tachine called the suspect a "devil" in Dine, the Navajo language. A physical fight followed.
Laveil Natoni's girlfriend, Regina Tachine, said she and Laveil were working to improve the dirt roads that day, but the equipment kept breaking. Sheldon approached them on his way home and said there was an argument between his father and the suspect.
Shortly after that, the suspect emerged from a nearby wash carrying a rifle. Laveil grabbed a tire iron and raised it as the man pointed the rifle.
Laveil was shot in the chest. Elvin Tachine, who was nearby, then yelled for Regina to run away, she told investigators.
When she came back with Laveil's mother, both men were dead.
The suspect admitted to investigators that he had killed both men and his rifle was found in his truck.
He said that Elvin Tachine had threatened to kill him three weeks earlier. He told FBI agents that as a Vietnam veteran, he took the threat seriously. He said he didn't have cellphone service to call authorities for help after he had been beaten.
He said he was pushed into the corner and had no one to help him, so he acted in the interest of "self-preservation."
In an interview with investigators, the suspect said that "in the jungle," when one is fired upon, one ducks, waits and returns fire in the direction of the incoming attack.
"I was beaten, so I retaliated. This wasn't the first time," the man told FBI agents, according to court documents.
Richard Cooke, age not listed, will appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Aspey in Flagstaff on Friday on two counts of first-degree murder.
Eric Betz can be reached at 556-2250 or firstname.lastname@example.org.