Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals: Prior Assault Evidence Allowed

Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals: Prior Assault Evidence Allowed

Carol Berry
9/30/12

A 58-year-old Native man failed in a challenge to the admission of evidence in his 2010 trial on charges of assault with intent to commit murder and related offenses, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled September 25.

William Belin, an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation, was convicted by a jury in U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico with the intent to murder charge, as well as with charges of assault with a dangerous weapon, assault resulting in serious bodily injury and use of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, the appeals court record states.

Evidence in the trial court established that he shot his 35-year-old girlfriend, also an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation, with a .22-caliber rifle in July 2010 at her home in Shiprock, New Mexico, within the exterior boundaries of the Navajo Nation.

“The bullet struck the victim on the left shoulder and exited her back, just below her neckline,” according to a Department of Justice press release. “The victim survived the shooting after receiving treatment for the through-and-through gunshot wound and other associated cuts and bruises she sustained during the assault.”

Trial testimony established that “Belin and the victim had been dating approximately three years prior to the shooting, and had an on-again, off-again relationship checkered with violence,” the release states. “By July 2010, Belin believed the victim was dating other men, and that belief led him to formulate a murder/suicide plot that he attempted to carry out July 7, 2010.”

Belin drove from his home in Teec Nos Pos, Arizona, to Shiprock and shot the victim, who fought back and was assisted by her 15-year-old daughter, who struck Belin repeatedly with a baseball bat and then called 911. Navajo Nation Department of Public Safety officers “found Belin and the victim in a bedroom, both were covered in blood,” the release states.

Belin objected to the District Court’s having allowed the government to admit evidence that he assaulted and threatened to kill his girlfriend five months before the assault in July, but the federal appeals court said the government admitted evidence of the prior assault “for the purpose of proving defendant’s intent and the absence of mistake or accident” and affirmed the lower court’s ruling without addressing a related ineffective counsel claim.

Belin is serving a 25-year sentence for his conviction on assault and firearms offenses.

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