Suspect in Navajo girl's 2016 murder to change plea

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - A man accused of kidnapping and killing an 11-year-old girl whose death stunned the nation's largest American Indian reservation and prompted new federal legislation is scheduled to change his plea in court.

Tom Begaye's change of plea hearing in federal court is scheduled for August 1 in Albuquerque. His attorneys said in court that he was looking to strike a plea deal, but it's unclear what he'll change the plea to. His federal defender did not return a call and email seeking comment. Begaye previously pleaded not guilty.

Begaye is facing murder, sexual abuse and other charges in the killing of Ashlynne Mike in May 2016. The case prompted federal legislation that would expand the Amber Alert system to tribal communities after it was learned that an alert of Mike's kidnapping didn't go out until the next day.

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Begaye is accused of luring Mike and her brother into his van. He told investigators he sexually assaulted the girl and struck her twice in the head with a crowbar, and that she was still moving when he left her in the desert, according to court documents. The younger brother was able to escape.

Mike's father filed a lawsuit against the Navajo Nation for failing to have an emergency notification system that he says would have saved his daughter's life.

Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona introduced legislation in April expanding the notification system to tribal lands. McCain said there are over 7,700 American Indian children listed as missing in the U.S.

"We must give Indian tribes the tools they need to help our children and put an end to this tragedy," McCain said in a written statement.

An Amber Alert system for the 27,000-square-mile reservation had been proposed years ago but was never implemented, despite the tribe having been awarded $330,000 in federal funding as part of a U.S. Justice Department pilot project. Half the money was used to buy equipment such as megaphones and pop-up tents, but the rest went unspent.

The Navajo Nation covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

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