Lehi accepts plea in murder case

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DURANGO — A 56-year-old Towaoc man, originally charged with first-degree murder, pleaded guilty Wednesday morning in U.S District Court to a pair of reduced charges.

Clarence M. Lehi was arrested Nov. 5, 2011 in Towaoc in the shooting death of Winslow Big Soldier at Lehi’s house on Mountain Sage Road in the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe reservation.

He appeared in court in a jail jump suit and wrist and ankle chains.

Lehi now faces up to a combined 25 years in prison for the two counts he pleaded guilty to on Wednesday — voluntary manslaughter and assault resulting in serious bodily injury.

A grand jury had indicted him on five counts, including first-degree murder, assault and possession of a gun by a felon. Those charges were waived because of the plea deal.

U.S. District Judge William Martinez accepted the plea, and the presumptive sentence on the manslaughter charge is not more than 15 years in prison, a fine not to exceed $250,000, three years supervised probation once released from prison and a $100 assessment fee.

On the assault charge, Lehi could be sentenced up to 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, three years supervised probation once released from prison and a $100 assessment fee.

The assault charge stems from a juvenile, who the court only identified by his initials, being injured by a ricochet bullet.

Martinez asked Lehi if he understood that he could impose a harsher sentence than the one recommended.

A somber Lehi told the judge he understood and still wanted to plead guilty.

Martinez asked Lehi twice to tell him the facts so he could determine whether to accept the guilty plea.

Lehi did not understand what the judge was asking, so Martinez asked Lehi’s public defender, Scott Varholak, to explain the request to his client.

“I was pretty intoxicated and everything happened so fast,” Lehi then said. “I can’t say how the gun went off. He came at me, and I thought he was going to stop.”

He said he held the gun at waist length, adding he froze by the time his alleged assailant reached him.

Lehi told the judge that Big Soldier told him that he was going to give him the “best (beating) this time” and said the juvenile must have been near by to be accidentally hit.

Lehi previously claimed that he had been repeatedly assaulted by Big Soldier. According to court records, prior to the shooting, Lehi called him and asked the man to come over because Lehi had something for him.

Lehi was convicted of felony assault in Utah in 1983, though he told Martinez on Wednesday he had never been in trouble with the law before.

Walker set sentencing for Jan. 18, 2012 in Durango after being told that having the sentencing in Denver on Dec. 10 would be problematic for friends and relatives of both Lehi and Big Soldier who wished to attend the sentencing and possibly address the court.