While one of the four co-defendants in the September 2017 murder at the L Motel received three years probation as part of a plea agreement, the other three defendants have trial dates set.
Following the state of Arizona’s motion to sever the remaining three in April, Kayson Russell will stand trial for second-degree murder beginning Sept. 18, Jayda Fortune will follow with her trial on Oct. 2 and Mirelle Gorman’s trial will begin April 16, 2019.
After Coconino County Superior Court Division 3 Judge Mark Moran released the four in November, Lawrence Sampson-Kahn agreed to plead guilty to negligent homicide in February with his sentencing following in April. While Fortune and Gorman remain out of custody, Russell’s release was revoked on July 20 following his third notice of noncompliance on July 2.
Russell failed to report for a drug test on June 29 and reportedly was involved in a domestic dispute on July 1. The fight led to Coconino County Sheriff’s deputies arriving on the scene, where Russell was arrested for possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia. Judge Moran signed the revocation of Russell’s release and set bail at $250,000. Russell appeared in court Friday for a comprehensive pretrial conference for his new marijuana and drug paraphernalia charges.
The four teenagers were initially arrested and charged with second-degree murder on Sept. 13, 2017 following the death of Jaron James at the L Motel. James’ body was found the morning of Sept. 7 following a fight in one of the motel’s rooms.
According to police reports, Russell, Sampson-Kahn, Gorman and Fortune were drinking with James, who allegedly tried to touch the two girls inappropriately. The four allegedly retaliated by attacking James, who later died as a result of his injuries and extreme intoxication.
After bouncing between three different judges in a two-month span, Ted Komada’s sexual assault and child molestation appears to be nearing a conclusion as a case management conference on four occasions since late May.
On May 29, Komada’s attorney David Bednar told Coconino County Superior Court Division 5 Judge Cathleen Brown Nichols that the defense was awaiting supplemental police reports and had yet to receive a plea offer. Deputy County Attorney Michael Tunink added that the state was awaiting a supplemental report before extending a plea offer.
The matter was continued again on June 25 and July 23 before an Aug. 6 appearance where court information shows a plea agreement would be forthcoming and a settlement conference was requested. Another case management conference was scheduled for Aug. 17, but no information on the appearance was filed as of Friday afternoon.
Originally scheduled for Division 1 with Judge Jacqueline Hatch for his arraignment in February, the case moved to Division 3 with Judge Mark Moran for reassignment due to Komada’s notice of a change of judge.
After Division 2 Judge Dan Slayton was assigned the case on Feb. 26, he recused himself from the matter on Feb. 28. This led Moran to assign the case to Nichols on March 6. Komada pleaded not guilty to the five felony charges on March 26, two months after the initial indictment, and is now held without bond.
Komada was initially arrested on Jan. 14 and released a day later before being arrested again on Jan. 16 with additional charges. Komada emailed his resignation to Flagstaff Unified School District, where he worked as a teacher and chess coach at Killip Elementary School, on the morning of Jan. 16.
FUSD and the Flagstaff Police Department stated the alleged assaults took place outside of the school, while police reports stated Komada told a witness he never abused any of his students.
According to police, Komada admitted to authorities that he had committed some sexual acts with children, but denied other claims by the victims. When police arrived to arrest Komada on Jan. 14, he said, “I am disappointed in myself and the situation. My life is over.”
Komada was charged with three counts of sexual assault against children, one count of molestation and one count of continuous sexual abuse of a child.
STEVEN JONES SAGA
The Steven Jones case has been hit with multiple setbacks since the hung jury triggered a mistrial.
The retrial for the first-degree murder and multiple aggravated assault charges was initially set for Aug. 1, 2017. The trial is currently set for March 5, 2019. Normally, a retrial must be set within 60 days, but the rule has been waived. The next case management hearing is Oct. 19.
In November 2017, defense attorney Joshua Davidson withdrew from the case for medical reasons. Jones was unable to afford an attorney, and a public defender was hired temporarily. Burges McCowan stayed on as a consulting attorney for the case.
Later the Jones family hired private Flagstaff attorneys Bruce Griffen and Ryan Stevens with McCowan continuing in his consulting role.
In this file photo from last May, Steven Jones listens as the jury foreman in his first-degree murder trial announces that the jury cannot com…
All involved attempted to proceed until an unidentified mother from one of the surviving victims alerted the Arizona State Bar to a potential conflict of interest.
Details about the allegation have not been released. There is no indication into how long the review might take. In addition, one of the prosecution's student witnesses to the trial died on March 5.
Jones shot and killed a fellow student, Colin Brough, and injured three others after a fight broke out and moved onto NAU’s campus in the early-morning hours of October 2015.
Jones pleaded not guilty to one count of first-degree murder, three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and three counts for aggravated assault that knowingly caused bodily harm. His defense claimed he acted in self-defense.
EAST FLAGSTAFF MURDER
Following Coconino County Attorney Ammon Barker’s motion to extend time in the first-degree murder case against Abraham Puentes-Ortiz and Adonis Encinas-Velarde, the two defendants took different directions over the past two months.
Encinas-Velarde, who initially surrendered to police following the Feb. 28 shooting and death of Kinsey Beebe, pleaded guilty to kidnapping, attempted drive-by shooting, assisting a criminal street gang, disorderly conduct with a weapon and misconduct involving weapons on June 6. The plea agreement included a potential maximum sentence of 21 years for the kidnapping charge while all counts will run concurrently.
Sentencing for the plea agreement was held July 24, with Encinas-Velarde sentenced to 12 1/2 years of flat time for the attempted drive-by shooting as well as 12 1/2 years for the kidnapping charge.
Additionally, the court leveled the defendant with 3 1/2 years for assisting a criminal street gang, 2 1/4 years for disorderly conduct with a weapon and one year for misconduct with a weapon. Encinas-Velarde was transported from the Coconino County Jail to the department of corrections Aug. 16.
In the case of Puentes-Ortiz, who allegedly fired three times and killed Beebe, the state conceded the defense’s argument to dismiss seven counts, including three related to the kidnapping of three others present during the eventual murder and four counts of aggravated assault, on June 18.
However, Barker requested the court deny the motion to dismiss the charge of kidnapping Beebe and the first-degree murder charge. Puentes-Ortiz still faces 13 counts, including first-degree murder, second-degree murder and kidnapping, with a trial date set for July 9, 2019.
Both defendants remain in custody at Coconino County Jail after being arrested on March 1. Officers originally reported to East Arrowhead Avenue late on Feb. 28 where they found Beebe shot and in critical condition. The victim was transported to Flagstaff Medical Center and pronounced dead due to her injuries, while the police responded to another report of shots fired at an occupied residence.
Encinas-Velarde turned himself in a few hours later, admitting he fired the shots during the drive-by and having fled from Puentes-Ortiz, worried he would be killed next. Puentes-Ortiz was later arrested at his residence.
According to the police, the initial shooting of Beebe occurred as the group had been drinking together, with the two defendants going outside and shooting a gun once. After Beebe confronted them, the men left and Beebe hid the gun inside the house. Upon their return, the three got into an argument about the location of the gun. Beebe called her mother to come pick her up and Puentes-Ortiz shot her three times with a different gun. As the men fled the scene, Encinas-Velarde fired a gun while in the car.
CHRISTMAS DAY MURDER
Vaughn Seumptewa remains in Coconino County Jail following his indictment and not guilty plea for second-degree murder in April.
Originally charged with aggravated assault in January following a December fight with Nicole Joe, who Seumptewa was in a relationship with, the Coconino County Attorney’s office dismissed the initial charge in May following the updated indictment from a grand jury.
A case management conference for Seumptewa has been continued on three occasions. The next court appearance is currently scheduled for Aug. 20 as well as a settlement conference on Aug. 21. In the interim, the Coconino County Attorney’s Office submitted a witness list including 11 members of law enforcement and 16 others. They also requested a 911 call and an interview with the defendant.
Vaughn Seumptewa, right, sits in Coconino County Superior Court during his arraignment on aggravated assault charges stemming from the death o…
According to police, Seumptewa said he grabbed Joe, threw her onto the ground and struck her multiple times with his fist before leaving her outside in the cold on Christmas Eve.
Joe was left outside until early Christmas Day morning when she was brought in by other residents of the apartment on East Cedar Avenue. She was left on the floor for 16 hours before being pronounced dead by responders.
KACHINA VILLAGE KILLING
Collin Tarr remains in custody, charged with three felonies in the February death of Timothy Larson.
A grand jury indicted Tarr on second-degree murder, second-degree burglary and aggravated assault among five total charges from an incident on Feb. 9 in Kachina Village. Tarr and Larson had been drinking together when they got into an argument, according to the Coconino County Sheriff's report.
Tarr pleaded not guilty on Feb. 26 following the Feb. 15 indictment, with the Coconino County Attorney’s office since disclosing a witness list including more than 50 people. Tarr previously faced a felony assault charge in 2016 that was eventually dismissed while he pleaded guilty to a disorderly conduct charge.
The defense requested a continuance of the case management conference on four occasions since April 23, adding on May 21 that there was a plea offer. The next court date is currently set for Aug. 20.
A neighbor called police the day of the incident and described a man “banging another individual's head on the road” at Gambel Oak Trail. When authorities arrived at the scene, they found Larson unresponsive and Tarr covered in blood and possibility intoxicated at a nearby house.
While Tarr’s account of the day confused authorities, he said he might have pushed Larson in self-defense and that he did not kill him.
Tarr’s cousin told sheriff’s deputies that she arrived home with her kids to see Larson in the street and Tarr in a nearby home. She added he acted aggressively and erratically before the police arrived.
“He came at me, like he was going to kill me,” Tarr’s cousin told deputies. “Collin’s not a bad person, but when he drinks ... he’s not Collin anymore. He is the devil, literally.”