Two brothers plead guilty in Fruitland murder

Under the terms of their plea agreements, Elijah Shirley faces 10 years and one month in prison and Michael Shirley faces five years and three months

Steve Garrison
Elijah Calvin Shirley

FARMINGTON — Two brothers have entered pleas to lesser charges in the murder last spring of 30-year-old Brandon BlueEyes.

Elijah Shirley, 31, pleaded guilty Wednesday at a federal court hearing in Albuquerque to voluntary manslaughter.

He admitted in the agreement that he entered BlueEyes' residence in Fruitland on the night of March 21, 2015, and stabbed BlueEyes to death after he found him in bed with his former girlfriend, Valerie Jim. He further admitted he destroyed evidence related to the crime, the agreement states.

Michael Jay Shirley

Federal prosecutors agreed 10 years and one month in prison would be an appropriate sentence for the defendant, who faced life in prison on the initial charge of first-degree murder.

Shirley's attorney, Michael A. Keefe, said it was a good resolution for his client.

"I think at the end (prosecutors) didn't have much in the way of forensic evidence, so they were relying entirely on witnesses statements, and it was a confusing, fast-paced situation — whatever happened, happened in the middle of the night," Keefe said.

Michael Shirley, 32, pleaded guilty at the same hearing to accessory after the fact, and prosecutors agreed he should be sentenced to five years and three months in prison.

Brandon BlueEyes

Michael Shirley admitted in the plea agreement he provided aid to Elijah Shirley and a third brother, Maynard Shirley, after the two brothers had committed the crimes of voluntary manslaughter and assault resulting in serious bodily injury.

Michael Shirley also initially faced life in prison on a first-degree murder charge.

His attorney, Charles N. Fisher, said the prosecution's primary witness, Jim, made several inconsistent statements about BlueEyes' killing, which hurt the federal government's case.

"I don't think anyone could confidently put my client at the scene," Fisher said.

Maynard Shirley remains charged with first-degree murder and two counts of assault on allegations he participated in the stabbings of BlueEyes and BlueEyes' father, who survived the incident.

He is scheduled to appear at trial Oct. 17 in Albuquerque.

Elijah Shirley and Michael Shirley have not yet been formally sentenced.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644.