A 28-year-old man has been charged with first-degree murder in the January death of a 3-year-old girl who suffered fatal injuries on Ely Shoshone tribal land, federal prosecutors announced Tuesday in Las Vegas.
Colon Jackson, a member of the Ely Shoshone Tribe, was booked into the Washoe County Detention Facility on Friday, a day after a federal grand jury in Reno indicted him in the murder case.
According to the indictment, Jackson caused the girl’s death around Jan. 9 “by perpetrating child abuse.” The indictment does not include the girl’s name, though The Ely Times identified her as Alyahna Bliss.
In March, about 50 people gathered in Ely to demand “Justice for Alyahna,” according to the newspaper. At the time, Jackson was not facing charges, but the FBI was investigating.
White Pine County prosecutors charged the girl’s mother, Maria Bliss, in January with child neglect and obstruction of a public officer. She was dating Jackson at the time of her arrest.
According to prosecutors, Maria Bliss picked up Alyahna at day care on Jan. 9, then left her in Jackson’s care while she went to work. Sometime later, Jackson called Maria Bliss at work and said Alyahna was unconscious.
The mother left work and took Alyahna to an emergency room in Ely, but the girl was instead flown to Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City for her “extensive injuries,” including a bleed inside her head that was putting pressure on her brain, state records show. She died at the hospital of blunt force trauma to the head.
An autopsy also showed that she had a spinal fracture and injuries to her genitalia and buttocks, Nicholas Trutanich, the U.S. Attorney for Nevada, said Tuesday.
History of abuse
Maria Bliss, 32, pleaded guilty in April to the child neglect charge. Court records show that White Pine County prosecutors agreed to recommend probation at her September sentencing hearing as long as she passes a psychosexual evaluation and agrees to testify truthfully throughout Jackson’s prosecution.
Jackson had a history of abuse with the girl, Trutanich said. Division of Child and Family Services records point to three previously reported incidents of abuse dated Jan. 26, 2018; March 1, 2018; and May 30, 2018.
According to an arresting document, the girl’s father noticed during a custody swap in 2018 that Alyahna had bruising on her chest. Maria Bliss told him that she had fallen at Cave Lake State Park about 5 miles southeast of Ely, but in interviews with law enforcement after the girl’s death, she said Jackson caused the injuries.
“Bliss did not report this abuse until now and the victim is now deceased,” the document reads.
White Pine County Sheriff Scott Henriod said the case was a tragedy for the Ely community.
“I appreciate the FBI’s diligence to make this arrest occur, and we appreciate their cooperation with us,” he said.
A call to Diana Buckner, chairwoman of the Ely Shoshone Tribe, was not returned Tuesday.
Jackson is due in federal court in Reno on Thursday for a detention hearing.
For at least a decade, a main area of concern and advocacy among tribes has been a lack of prosecution of crimes in Indian country, according to Addie Rolnick, a UNLV professor who specializes in criminal law, Indian law and critical race theory.
When federal prosecutors accepted cases, they didn’t prioritize them, and when they more often declined cases, they weren’t updating tribes or explaining why, Rolnick said.
Other murder cases
The Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 required U.S. attorney’s offices to better track and report how many Indian country cases they handled each year and how many of those cases they declined to prosecute. The Department of Justice reports those numbers to Congress annually.
According to the most recently available report, published in 2018, the U.S. attorney’s office in Nevada saw 17 Indian country cases in 2017 and declined to prosecute 14 of them for unknown reasons.
Trutanich, the U.S. attorney for Nevada, said Tuesday that his office is committed to working closely with local law enforcement, tribal police and the FBI to “fully investigate and prosecute violent crime on Native American reservations.”
He pointed to two additional murder cases in Indian country that his office is also prosecuting.
The first case charges Stoney Prior, a member of the Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe, with two counts of murder within Indian country.
Prior, 41, is accused of killing two members of the tribe in January 2018 near the Nevada-Oregon border. The first victim was shot in the head and neck with a shotgun, and the second was shot once in the head and stomach and twice in the arm with a shotgun, according to a criminal complaint.
Jail records show that Prior is in the Washoe County Detention Facility awaiting a February trial in Reno.
The second is a 2019 case that was filed under seal, so no other details were available. It is also being prosecuted in Reno.
This story has been updated to clarify the circumstances surrounding Alyahna’s death and an allegation of prior abuse.
Domestic violence case
Ely County Justice Court records show that Colon Jackson pleaded guilty to a domestic violence charge in 2016 stemming from an incident with another woman he was dating at the time. He was ordered to spend two days in jail and attend domestic violence and anger management counseling for six months.