GALLUP, N.M. – The man accused of gunning down a tribal police officer this year in a remote corner of the nation's largest American Indian reservation will not go to trial until June 2019 because of the case's complexity and the possibility that the suspect could face a death sentence if convicted, officials have said.
The Gallup Independent reported Thursday that Kirby Cleveland's federal court trial has been delayed because lawyers have requested more time given the amount of evidence and witnesses involved, citing Elizabeth Martinez, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in New Mexico.
Lawyers also are working to line up experts who specialize in DNA, forensics, firearms and ammunition, the newspaper said.
Cleveland faces murder and weapons charges in the killing of Navajo Nation Officer Houston James Largo, who was shot March 11 on a dark road in western New Mexico while responding to a domestic violence call.
Initially scheduled to be tried in June, Cleveland has pleaded not guilty and remains in custody pending trial.
A woman from the rural community where the killing happened saw flashing police lights the night of the shooting and found Largo lying on the road, face down and bleeding. She used the radio in Largo's patrol vehicle to call for help.
The 27-year-old decorated officer died the next day at an Albuquerque hospital. Cleveland was found hiding in the hills more than a mile (kilometer) away.
Before the shooting, Cleveland's wife had called authorities saying he had been drinking and became angry, according to a criminal complaint. She drove him to a friend's house.
A friend was driving Cleveland home when Largo stopped the vehicle, and shots rang out a short time later, authorities have said. A criminal complaint said Cleveland walked home with his .22-caliber rifle and told his wife: "I shot that police officer, you need to go help him."
Cleveland was on probation for forcing his way into a home on the Navajo Nation in 2012 armed with a baseball bat and assaulting a woman. He served two years in prison.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions will decide whether to seek a sentence of life in prison or the death penalty if Cleveland is convicted of the most serious charges.
According to a motion filed recently, an internal case review must be performed as part of the process.
Information from: Gallup Independent, http://www.gallupindependent.com