Farmington, New Mexico, a city of fewer than 45,000 citizens, sits atop the Colorado Plateau at the juncture of three rivers. It is surrounded by three Indian reservations and sundry glories of ancient Native American civilization, including the Aztec Ruins National Monument and the Salmon Ruins. In 1967, not an hour’s drive away, the US government exploded a 29-kiloton nuclear device 4,000 feet underground in the hope of fracturing deep rock formations and extracting natural gas. It worked, but the gas proved too radioactive to be of use. After the detonation, nuclear surface waste was removed. Digging remains dangerous and forbidden for miles.
This week two Farmington men, 25 and 27, received sentences of five and eight years respectively, after submitting Alford pleas. In 2010 the good friends, Paul and Jesse, grabbed a 22-year-old mentally-challenged Navajo man, branded a swastika into his arm with a scalding coat hanger, and shaved another swastika into his head. They then drew all over his body. The victim, Vincent Kee, asked the court: “Why, why would they, why would they hurt me?” Under an Alford plea, a defendant acknowledges there is enough evidence for a conviction but does not admit guilt.