AZTEC — An Arizona man pleaded no-contest to second-degree murder in connection to a stabbing in Farmington and was sentenced to six years in prison.
Evander Tsosie, 19, entered his plea and was sentenced on Monday. His six-year prison sentence will be followed by five years of probation.
Tsosie stabbed Nathan Lee, 29, once in the neck and twice in the back on March 29, 2012, in the parking lot at Safeway, 730 West Main St. Lee died that night.
Tsosie has said the stabbing was in self-defense.
Witnesses had reportedly seen Lee and Tsosie fighting in the parking lot, but no one saw the stabbing. Both men were intoxicated during the incident, according to court documents.
Five members of Lee's family spoke at Tsosie's sentencing hearing.
They said Lee was a father of two children, and he was known for telling jokes and making his nieces and nephews laugh. He was also a hard worker and frequently helped his parents, who lived in Arizona near Chinle.
"He would help us run the house and with anything we needed. Now, I miss him," said Eonita Lee. "I feel a lot of pain in my heart, and it keeps me from eating."
Diana Lee, Nathan's sister, said the family sought counseling after Lee's death.
"We lost interest in daily work and daily jobs," she said. "Almost all his siblings lost interest in jobs, and his nieces and nephews got behind and lost interest in schools."
If Tsosie had gone to trial he would have likely been convicted of either third-degree felony manslaughter, which carries a six-year sentence, or second-degree murder, which carries a 15-year sentence, said San Juan County Chief Deputy District Attorney Dustin O'Brien.
The agreement allows Tsosie to be sentenced to the same amount of time he would have been exposed to if convicted of third-degree felony manslaughter. But Tsosie can be sentenced to the rest of a 15-year prison sentence if he violates probation, O'Brien said.
"The rest of the sentence is still hanging over his head," he said. "If he violates probation, he can get another nine years."
Thomas Clark, Tsosie's attorney, said the agreement was in his client's best interest because there was a possibility he could have been convicted of second- or even first-degree murder at trial.
"My client is only 19 years old, and the prospect of spending the next 15 or 30 years behind bars was too much to take," he said.
Tsosie said he wants to better his life once he is released from prison.
"I'm taking responsibility for my actions. When I get released, I want to start over," he said during his sentencing hearing. "I'm sorry this happened."
Ryan Boetel can be reached at email@example.com; 505-564-4644. Follow him on Twitter @rboetel.