FARMINGTON — A 27-year-old man accused of masterminding a Nov. 7, 2005, triple homicide in Hogback is scheduled to make his first federal court appearance in New Mexico after U.S. Marshals transport him from El Paso, Texas.

Michael Johnson, the last of four suspects arrested for the execution-style murders of Vicki Benally, Bobby Wayne Fulton and Lars Yazzie, waived his identity hearing Wednesday in El Paso, said Darrell Fields, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Western District of Texas.

By waiving his hearing, Johnson does not deny he is the same person implicated in and federally charged with the New Mexico triple homicide.

Johnson remains in federal custody and is expected to be transported by U.S. Marshals to New Mexico, said Norman Cairns, public information officer for the U.S. Attorney General's Office in Albuquerque.

Once Johnson returns to New Mexico, a federal preliminary hearing will be scheduled, Cairns said.

FBI agents and Mexican law enforcement officers arrested Johnson on Dec. 23 at an undisclosed location in Mexico, federal court documents state. Before his arrest, Johnson eluded authorities for more than a year after the killings.

Agents believe the murders resulted from a dispute between Johnson and Fulton over drug territory, federal court documents state. Johnson reportedly wanted Fulton dead because he believed Fulton was interfering with his methamphetamine territory.

The FBI linked Johnson to the murder days after the shooting left three dead near the Hogback Chapter House on Turkey Shoot Road.

After conducting a large-scale manhunt, agents arrested Chuck Nahkai, 29, of Beclabito; Darcy Robert Manus, 22, of Shiprock; and Eugina Renee Cowboy, 22, of Shiprock. All three are awaiting trial for the murders in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque.

Rhys Saunders: rsaunders@daily-times.com