Four years after a murder, a rural Navajo community looks for closure
A 2018 murder shocked a small Navajo community just south of Bluff, Utah. Federal agents arrested a suspect later that year. But since then the victim’s family has lived without closure. And in fear.
For Rocky Mountain Community Radio, KZMU’s Justin Higginbottom reports from Mexican Water on the Navajo Nation.
Rebecca Green is standing on a dirt road in front of her house on a clear day in a remote stretch of the Navajo Nation on the Utah and Arizona border.
She describes this road as a vine which a number of her family lives off, like a geographic rendition of her family tree. Today she’s waiting for her aunt. But it’s the cars she doesn’t recognize that worry her.
“This past year, there was a pickup truck that went all the way up to my grandma’s house and then just turned around and went back,” says Green. “It could be anybody, you know?”
She says she’s scared – even here, on her vine.
“I live with that scare of having to look over my shoulder wondering who’s going up the road. I have that every day.”
It’s been nearly four years since someone shot and killed her common-law husband just down the road in this rural community around 15 miles south of Bluff. Although the FBI charged a suspect, she thinks his family or associates could retaliate.
“In our Native belief, we believe that [the suspect] has spiritual guidance with some medicine man on his end, trying to witch us and trying to do harm on us that way; spiritually. Maybe they’re coming up here dropping stuff off on our land.”
Green’s birthday is next month. It’s a time of year that brings back painful memories.
Her husband Antonio Montowine’s birthday was a couple days after hers. They were celebrating together on April 14th, 2018.
The couple had lost a cat recently and drove looking for it with their seven-year-old son. Down the road from Green’s home, they saw someone possibly dumping trash. That had been a problem before and they debated whether to confront the man.
“Everything in my head was telling me no. I should have listened,” says Green.
They decided to talk to him. Green was tired of the empty beer bottles strewn among the sagebrush near her property. Antonio approached the man while Green sat in the car with her son. She tried to make out what was being said. Antonio and the man were arguing. Then she says she saw the gun.
“His first shot was a warning shot up into the air. Going to the right probably. I’m not too sure. But that got me scared to where I jumped out of the van,” says Green.
She couldn’t believe what just happened and wondered what could have possibly been said to justify firing a weapon. She watched as Antonio walked back to the van. She had so many questions for him. But it seemed like it was taking forever for him to reach her, like he was moving in slow motion.
“And out of nowhere, as it looks like he’s going to get in or turn around or something, he falls. I didn’t hear the gunshot… [Antonio] just falls right in the driver’s doorway. It took me probably five milliseconds to realize what happened,” says Green.
Antonio was shot in the head. She says after that the suspect stood there, still holding his gun. She wondered if her and her son were next. But instead the man drove away in his truck while Green screamed what she thought was his license plate number for her son to remember.
Federal investigators eventually charged Perry Maryboy for the murder. Green believes it was him who killed her husband. Authorities detained Maryboy and a trial date was set. Then Covid happened.
Pre-trial detention was cut for suspects around the country. Jails were hotbeds for the virus. Maryboy is also Navajo and that community was hit especially hard by the pandemic. Staying in jail could have been a death sentence for him. And until a trial, he’s presumed innocent. Maryboy was released in August of 2020.
Curtis Yanito is the president of the Mexican Water chapter house — a local Navajo Nation governing body for Green’s area. He says residents became aware of Maryboy’s release from jail when a new home was proposed for him.
“I thought he had a house in prison somewhere, you know… What is he doing over here? People were scared of him,” says Yanito.
Yanito says that until he’s convicted, Maryboy has rights to housing from the tribe. Still, some in the community weren’t happy about it.
“That’s how it started. And then people start talking, saying, ‘we don’t need him here… he doesn’t need these kinds of services,'” says Yanito.
Maryboy lives in the small community of White Rock. It’s a couple dozen tract houses and a church. He’s not allowed to leave his house without permission. And he wears a GPS tracker.
But one neighbor who helped identify Maryboy to the FBI isn’t comforted.
“It is a little bit uncomfortable because I’m an accuser just down the road now. But it’s been uneasy for a year and a half now,” he says.
The neighbor doesn’t want to give his name. He’s had violent run-ins with Maryboy in the past. He says on one occasion Maryboy even shot warning shots in his direction.
Back at Green’s home, her aunt Nell Johnson finally arrives, her truck bumping down the sandy road.
“We’ve gotten more cautious of who’s going across our yard or who’s up on the hill,” says Johnson. Hikers didn’t used to rouse suspicion. Now she says her neighbors will track strangers in the distance. “You wake up. The reality of what’s really out there. It’s here.”
Perry Maryboy’s brother is county commissioner Kenneth Maryboy. Some in the community think this has given Perry special treatment.
But his release isn’t up to local politicians. It’s a judge that ultimately decides where he will spend his time before trial. That decision is made depending on Perry Maryboy’s chance of running and his danger to the community.
After a while Green’s aunt figured her family was in this situation because the crime happened in Indian county.
“Well, they just kill each other. They’re just ‘crazy Indians’ out there,” says Johnson. “And people around here finally come to that conclusion. It’s just because two people of the same nationality kill each other. It’s no big deal.”
Meanwhile, Green wonders if there’s something else she can be doing to help put Maryboy away.
“I break down crying on a daily basis about what I did and how I should have did it or what I could have done or wish I didn’t,” Green says.
The jury trial is finally scheduled for May. Green and her family regularly drive past White Rock where Maryboy lives. She wonders which house is his and, for the millionth time, she thinks about that day nearly four years ago.