Man Gets Life in Prison For Murder and Sexual Assault of Navajo Girl That Left Community 'Shocked to Its Core'
"I still miss my sweet baby," Ashlynne Mike's mother said
A man who pleaded guilty to kidnapping, sexually assaulting and murdering an 11-year-old Navajo Nation girl in 2016 was sentenced to life in prison without parole on Friday, according to multiple media reports.
The case drew national attention to the AMBER Alert laws on American Indian reservations.
Tom Begaye Jr., 28, also a member of the Navajo Nation, was sentenced Friday for the crimes against 11-year-old Ashlynne Mike by U.S. District Judge William P. Johnson in the U.S. District Court in Albuquerque, New Mexico, according to the Associated Press, NBC News and the Albuquerque Journal.
Federal officials arrested Begaye last May hours after Ashlynne’s body was found a few miles south of a famed Shiprock monument, FBI Albuquerque spokesperson Frank Fisher told PEOPLE at the time. Ashlynne’s body was found the day after she and her 9-year-old brother went missing near their Lower Fruitland home.
Police said the two children were at a bus stop near their school when Begaye, a stranger, approached them and offered to take them to a movie. The reluctant boy went along because he did not want Ashlynne to go alone.
Hours later, the boy was found by a passerby along a highway near the Arizona state line after he escaped.
The boy told authorities the stranger had driven them into the desert before Begaye walked away with his sister while carrying a crowbar. According to court documents, Begaye confessed to authorities that he sexually assaulted the girl and hit her in the head twice with the crowbar. Although Begaye initially pleaded not guilty to the crimes, he reversed his plea to guilty last August.
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Begaye pleaded guilty to a six-count indictment of murder, aggravated sexual abuse and kidnapping offenses in August under a “plea agreement that requires the imposition of a mandatory term of life imprisonment without the possibility of release,” according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Mexico.
Begaye allegedly said the girl was still alive afterwards when he left her, but her body was found two days later in the desert.
A New Mexico AMBER Alert for Ashlynne was not issued until around 2 a.m. the day after she went missing, which drew criticism.
In April, U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona introduced federal legislation to include tribal lands in the AMBER Alert program. McCain said more than 7,700 American Indian children are listed as missing in the U.S., according to the AP.
In August, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye (who is not related to Tom Begaye) expressed his support for the implementation of an AMBER Alert System to “protect our children from horrendous crimes such as this one,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s statement.
“We hope that the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment that awaits Begaye will bring a measure of solace to the family and some comfort to a community that was shocked to its core by these brutal crimes,” said Acting U.S. Attorney James D. Tierney in August in the statement.
Ashlynne’s mother, Pamela Foster, called Begaye a “monster,” according to the AP.
“I have tried to get up each day on a positive note, and this is not possible because I still miss my sweet baby,” Foster said.