A man arrested for second-degree homicide on Christmas Day pleaded not guilty to aggravated assault on Tuesday.
The assault charge against Vaughn Seumptewa stemmed from a confrontation outside an apartment in the 2200 block of East Cedar Avenue, which led to the death of Nicole Joe, 40, a woman with whom he had a relationship.
Seumptewa appeared before Coconino County Superior Court Division 1 Judge Jacqueline Hatch to submit his not guilty plea in front of Joe’s family.
Joe’s family cried as Seumptewa’s lawyer read his plea.
“It was an emotional day,” Joe’s sister Sarafina “Sophie” Joe said.
She conceded that her family was frustrated at the fact that Nicole Joe was dead, but Seumptewa was not charged with murder.
“They told us that they did not have enough evidence to charge him with my sister’s murder,” Sophie Joe said, referring to a private conversation she had with the Coconino County Attorney’s Office.
Coconino County Attorney William Ring said that a murder charge against Seumptewa was not out of the question.
“The circumstances surrounding homicide remain under active investigation,” Ring wrote in a brief statement on Jan. 11.
Seumptewa has admitted to hitting Nicole Joe. He told police that he grabbed Joe, threw her onto the ground, jumped on top of her and struck her multiple times in the head with his fist, according to the Flagstaff Police Department.
An unconscious and bloodied Joe was then left outside in the cold and not brought back inside until 3 a.m. on Christmas morning, according to Flagstaff Police.
Joe was then brought inside the apartment and left on the floor for 16 hours before she was pronounced dead that night.
Seumptewa is scheduled for a case management conference on Feb. 12, in Coconino County Superior Court.