PHOENIX, ARIZONA — On July 22, 2014, Branden Pete, 28, of Greasewood, Arizona, was sentenced by Senior U.S. District Judge Stephen M. McNamee to 708 months (59 years) in prison. Pete was found guilty by a federal jury on Oct. 31, 2005, of murder in the second degree; murder during the commission of the crime of kidnapping; murder during the commission of the crime of aggravated sexual abuse and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.
The evidence at trial showed that on May 18, 2002, Branden Pete, Irvin Cepi, Harris James and Hoskie James, all members of the Navajo Nation, picked up the victim on the Navajo Reservation and drove her to a remote location where she was forcibly raped by then 16 year-old Branden Pete, Irvin Cepi, Harris James, and Hoskie James. The victim was then driven to another remote location where she sustained fatal injuries to her head at the hands of both Irvin Cepi and Branden Pete.
Her body was not discovered until Aug. 26, 2002. An anonymous tip led authorities to these four who all confessed their involvement.
The defendant was originally sentenced to mandatory life imprisonment on April 17, 2006. However, in 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court in Miller v. Alabama, decided that juveniles should not face mandatory life sentences and that the courts should consider the infirmities of youth in determining their level of culpability. The defendant presented evidence of a dysfunctional upbringing and significant substance abuse issues. The court took these into account but was shocked by the actions of the defendant in taking the life of another in such a brutal fashion. The court also noted that Pete had accumulated a significant number of disciplinary problems while serving his sentence in the Bureau of Prisons. Ultimately, the judge decided against re-imposing a sentence of life imprisonment but rather selected the 708-month sentence stating that he did so both to punish the defendant for the crimes he committed and to protect the community. The defendant will receive credit for the nearly 12 years he has already served in prison.
The investigation in this case was conducted by the FBI and the Navajo Nation Department of Law Enforcement. The prosecution was handled by Vincent Q. Kirby, Assistant U.S. Attorney, District of Arizona, Phoenix.