A Grand Canyon concessioner employee accused of killing 30-year-old Kim Quanimpetewa in June 2001 pleaded guilty Wednesday to first-degree murder and will serve a 25-year sentence.
Jeremiah Becenti, 22, was scheduled to go to trial this week for the woman's death, but prosecuters appeared to have overwhelming evidence toward his guilt. Attorneys for both sides and the victim's family negotiated a plea bargain.
On June 12, 2001, rangers responded to a report of an unresponsive person in a concession housing unit at Trailer Village. According to GCNP ranger Patrick Hattaway, the first ranger on scene found the victim's body in a corner of the room under a bunk bed.
"A cooperative investigation was begun by NPS rangers and special agents, Coconino County deputies and detectives and state crime scene technicians," Hattaway reported. "In short order, they secured the area, conducted more than 100 interviews, obtained a search warrant for the crime scene and identified Jeremiah Becenti, 21, from Tuba City, Arizona, as the prime suspect."
Becenti was found that same night, hiding under his sister’s bed in her dorm room. Evidence recovered from the crime scene included the knife used in the murder and Becenti’s blood-spattered pants. The coroner determined that Quanimptewa had been stabbed 44 times.
"Because a justice of the peace had issued the search warrant rather than a court of record, the case was deferred to the county attorney’s office," Hattaway reported.
Becenti was indicted on a single charge of first degree murder in the fall of 2001. The case was continued three times last year and this year by defense request, but culminated on last week with Becenti pleading guilty to the charge.
Hattaway said Becenti has still not provided a motive for the killing. The investigation revealed that he’d consumed a large amount of alcohol prior to the murder and detectives believe that he may not remember exactly why he killed Quanimptewa.
Becenti will be sentenced on May 13. Since there was no evidence of premeditation, the minimum sentence will be from 25 years to life, with the possibility of parole.