The violent murder and horrific dismemberment of Dwayne Beauty on Yavapai-Apache Nation land by a non-Indian has left his family in mourning and searching for justice. This June, nearly two years after the murder, the killer, Mario Chagolla Jr., took a plea bargain from federal prosecutors for a reduced charge of voluntary manslaughter.
The deal includes a possible 10-year sentence, with a credit of two years for time already served, and restitution to the family. Chagolla could be released from prison as early as 2023.
For Apache store-owner Delbert Smith, the plea deal was very much in Chagolla’s favor rather than Beauty’s. “It seems like [Chagolla] made the deal himself,” Smith said.
Smith is Beauty’s first-cousin, but he considered Beauty to be “like a brother.” The two grew up together raised by their grandfather. “What happened to Dwayne was really, really bad,” Smith said, recounting the grisly details of the murder.
On the evening of June 16, 2013, Beauty and Chagolla, along with tribal members Larry Telese and Ted Gia, were at Gia’s house playing cards and drinking. Gia’s house is on Yavapai-Apache land in a housing unit in the small, mostly white border town of Camp Verde, Arizona.
According to court documents, Chagolla at some point told Telese he would “get that mark,” referring to Beauty. Telese didn’t know what that meant. Chagolla later claimed he was paid $750 to kill Beauty, but didn’t say by whom.
Chagolla blamed Beauty for the death of Gia’s girlfriend, Kathy Englund, and told Gia he would “take care of” Beauty that night. Englund had died of alcohol poisoning three months earlier, according to the Yavapai County Medical Examiner.
Later that evening at Gia’s house, Chagolla attacked Beauty, knocking him to the ground, in front of Gia and Telese. According to Telese, he and Chagolla kicked Beauty while he was down, and he recalls that “Beauty did not fight or scream.”
After beating Beauty, Chagolla duct-taped Beauty’s hands behind his back and retrieved a knife from the kitchen. He then repeatedly stabbed Beauty in the neck and shoulder, only stopping because the blade broke off in Beauty’s head.
Telese said Chagolla then left the residence “for some time,” then returned with a circular saw and some tools, and used the saw and a long knife to cut off Beauty’s head, arms, hands and legs, leaving “nothing left but a torso.” (It’s unclear whether Beauty was alive when Chagolla began sawing off his limbs.)
According to Gia, Chagolla then asked him to build a fire in his fireplace, which he did. Chagolla tossed Beauty’s hands into the fire, and then used pliers to pull out Beauty’s teeth, also throwing them into the fire.
Telese told investigators that during the slaughter Chagolla held up Beauty’s severed head and yelled, “This is what you get for messing with somebody else’s girl.” He then tossed Beauty’s head into the fireplace.
Telese says Chagolla gathered up the remaining body parts, stuffed them into trash bags, wrapped the torso in a tarp, and placed them into the trunk of his car with the help of Gia.
Chagolla, left again, then returned to tell Gia and Telese that he had “burned” the rest of the arms and legs, but had kept the torso. He also threatened to kill both Gia and Telese if they told anyone about the murder. “This is not my first rodeo,” Chagolla allegedly bragged to Telese.
Telese and Chagolla left the house together that night to go out drinking, leaving Gia to clean up the bloody mess.
Days later, according to an FBI affidavit, Chagolla’s family became suspicious because Chagolla was acting “strange” and had talked about his possible involvement in a murder. He posted a cryptic Facebook status update, possibly in response to suspicions: “I was just kidding! […] LMAO!”
Meanwhile, Beauty’s older sister, Janet Beauty, went to the river where he stayed but found only his tent and clothes. “I kept thinking about him, he’s hurting out there somewhere,” she recalls. Worried family members reported Beauty missing.
On June 20, four days after the murder, Chagolla’s family discovered something wrapped in a tarp in the trunk of their father’s car that smelled like a “dead animal,” according to Chagolla’s father, Mario. his son then admitted to being involved in a murder and that he had burned body parts in a barrel on the property.
When Chagolla fled the house in the car, with the torso still in the trunk, his father called police.
Later that day, police stopped Chagolla in Camp Verde. He attempted to flee but was arrested, and charged with first-degree murder. Though no body parts were found in the car, court documents say a DNA analysis of blood found in the trunk matched that of Dwayne Beauty.
Because a non-Indian had been accused of murdering a tribal member, on Yavapai Apache reservation land, the FBI led the investigation and the Arizona U.S. Attorney’s Office took the case to federal court.
Even though Larry Telese and Ted Gia admitted they witnessed the murder, court documents reveal there was no direct evidence that they helped or paid Chagolla to kill Beauty, and no charges were filed against them.
In the ensuing investigation, some of Beauty’s teeth and burned remains were collected from Gia’s fireplace. Remains were also recovered from the burn barrel at the Chagolla residence.
“I’ve had other brothers that died before,” Delbert Smith said. “But going like this—being butchered—it can’t be like that. Something has to be done.”
But seeking justice for Beauty is as complicated as the laws pertaining to the crime. Federal prosecution of non-Indians committing violent crimes against tribal members or on reservation lands, or both, falls under the 1817 Federal Enclaves Act and the 1825 Assimilated Crimes Act, which guarantee “the general laws of the United States” as prosecutable and punishable by federal courts if committed in “Indian country.” Under these provisions, reservation land is considered a “federal enclave,” much like federal buildings, parks, prisons and military bases.
The 1885 Major Crimes Act further entrenched federal criminal jurisdiction in Indian country by taking away tribal jurisdiction over felonies such as murder, manslaughter, rape, assault, arson, burglary and larceny.
These Congressional acts combined give the federal government exclusive jurisdiction, with limited exception, to prosecute and punish crimes committed on reservation lands involving non-Indian perpetrators against Indian victims. But crimes committed by non-Indians against other non-Indians are sometimes subject to state jurisdiction in minor cases and federal jurisdiction in major cases.
Due to tribes’ politically and legally contentious quasi-sovereign status as “domestic dependent nations” within the U.S., the federal government wields exclusive criminal jurisdiction over most crimes committed in Indian country.
In this system, tribes cannot protect tribal members from federal courts. But if a non-Indian commits a crime, like murder, against a tribal member on reservation land, federal courts protect non-Indians from tribal justice systems because tribes have little or no input over federal prosecutions.
Chagolla’s plea deal was made between his counsel and federal prosecutors, with little or no input from the Yavapai-Apache Nation or Beauty’s surviving family. “I think the federal justice system really failed our people here. No protection,” Smith said.
“It’s not a perfect process,” admitted Yavapai Apache Police Department (YAPD) Detective Bob Davis, a non-Native and a 13-year veteran on the force. Davis was a detective during the investigation of Dwayne Beauty’s murder. The YAPD played a supporting role to the FBI investigators, but the Yavapai-Apache Nation had no bearing on Chagolla’s prosecution and sentencing.
Davis said collaborations between county, state, tribal and federal agencies are amicable when it comes to investigating and charging crimes committed within Yavapai-Apache jurisdiction; and most YAPD officers have federal, state, and tribal deputization, granting them arrest authority over Indian and non-Indian perpetrators. Yet they have no power over prosecution and sentencing when cases are handed over to the federal system.
In a 2011 article on tribal control over federal sentencing, legal scholar Emily Tredeau noted that across the nation profound sentencing inequalities remain between non-Indian and Indian offenders.
Non-Indian offenders committing crimes on Indian reservations are sometimes prosecuted outside the federal system in state courts, where convictions may carry lighter sentences. But Indian offenders in Indian country are not allowed this option and are often sentenced to longer prison terms for crimes that would carry much lighter sentences, or none at all, if the crime was committed off-reservation.
Tribes, however, have little to no authority over serious crimes—such as homicides—nor are federal prosecutors required to seek tribal input over decisions to decline cases or make plea bargains. “Federal law enforcement bears virtually no political accountability to tribes, which have even less say in the sentences flowing from federal prosecutions,” Tredeau’s study concluded.
Janet Beauty remembered the first time she and her family met with prosecutors from Arizona’s U.S. Attorney’s Office about her brother’s murder. She told prosecutors, “I never want to take a plea agreement.”
Last June after prosecutors announced to the family they had made a plea agreement, Janet said she was so upset she could hardly speak. “I said, I don’t want to [take the plea bargain]. I sat there and I cried and cried and begged them not to take it. It was out of my hands. They took it anyway.
“Ten years is a slap in the face,” she said.
Chagolla’s admission of guilt for the murder by taking the plea bargain resolved little for the Beauty family. In fact, it made things worse—Chagolla never revealed what he did with Beauty’s torso. “He’s out there somewhere. We never found his torso,” Janet said. “We can’t bury him [because] we don’t have him. His soul is wandering.”
Chagolla is scheduled to appear in court this September, where a judge will decide whether to accept the plea bargain or continue with a trial.