Federal and tribal officials arrested suspect Thursday

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FARMINGTON — A family member of a Sanostee man who was killed last month during an alleged murder said her uncle's death is a loss to the whole community.

The FBI and the Navajo Department of Criminal Investigation arrested Darren Benally, 25, Thursday afternoon, according to FBI spokesman Frank Fisher.

Benally was charged with second-degree murder and offenses committed within Indian country, according to the affidavit.

Benally is accused of beating his 50-year-old uncle, Norman Tyler, to death on the night of March 27 outside a Sanostee residence by repeatedly punching him in the face and head, according to the affidavit and Tyler's niece, Tanisha Tyler.

Tanisha identified her uncle as the victim and Benally as her cousin. Court documents identify Norman as "John Doe."

Officers for the Navajo Police Department responded to a report of a man with a head laceration outside a Sanostee residence on the night of March 27, according to court documents.

The officers found Norman lying outside, and he was not showing any signs of life. Medics arrived at the scene, but they were unable to revive him.

A field investigator for the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator declared Norman deceased.

Benally was present at the scene when officers arrived, according to his criminal complaint. He told the officers he was cleaning up trash around his residence when he got into a fight with Norman.

Norman allegedly called Benally some derogatory words before the fight occurred, according to court documents. Benally told officers Norman swung at him, but he avoided the punch, then both men grabbed the other's shirt, and Norman was knocked to the ground.

Benally added he punched Norman in the head and face more than 20 times while he was on the ground, according to court documents.

Tanisha said she grew up with Benally and never imagined he would "rip" her uncle out of her life.

"I was in shock because I grew up with my uncle. He was like a father figure to me," Tanisha said.

She described Norman as being a family man who had a bubbly personality. She said he often would help her with her math homework.

Norman was an electrician and has been taking care of his 89-year-old mother, who is nearly blind, Tanisha said.

She said her uncle would do his mother's household chores, including laundry, and would cook meals for her and other elders in the community.

He also enjoyed playing sports with his nephews and nieces, and hiking in the mountains.

Tanisha said she learned a lot from Norman, including gratitude, and to not take things for granted. She also believes she got her sense of humor and sarcasm from her uncle.

Norman's family wanted the public to know about him and to shine a light on a man who meant a great deal to the family, according to Tanisha.

Funeral services for Norman were held at the Desert View Funeral Home Chapel in Shiprock Wednesday morning.

Benally had his initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge B. Paul Briones in Farmington on Thursday afternoon, according to Fisher.

A preliminary and detention hearing for Benally is scheduled for Monday in Albuquerque.

Joshua Kellogg covers crime, courts and social issues for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at jkellogg@daily-times.com.

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