A teenager was charged Friday with killing a nun after allegedly breaking into her trailer home on the Navajo Indian reservation in search of cash or valuable items.
Federal authorities accused Reehahlio Carroll, 18, of Navajo of "unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought" in the death of 64-year-old Sister Marguerite Bartz, who served at St. Berard Catholic Church in Navajo.
Carroll was expected to appear in federal court on Monday, said Norm Cairns, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office. Cairns said the charge against Carroll might make him eligible for the death penalty, but the Navajo Nation would first have to allow the U.S. government to pursue it.
Carroll's attorney, Robert Gorence, said he had no comment on the case.
According to the federal criminal complaint, Carroll told investigators he broke into Bartz's trailer home shortly after midnight Sunday looking for cash or valuable items when Bartz struck him in the face with a shoe.
He hit her with a flashlight, knocking her to the ground, then hit her in the head five or six times with the flashlight and kicked her in the back and face, the complaint alleged.
Carroll left the room, searching for more items in the trailer, but heard Bartz screaming.
"In an effort to silence the woman, Reehahlio Carroll took a black shirt that was in the room and, while standing over the woman's body, tied the shirt over the woman's mouth, fastening the shirt with a knot tied at the back of the woman's head," the complaint said.
Carroll stole a mini-SUV that Bartz was using while her roommate, another nun, was on an out-of-state trip. The vehicle was later found near Cottonwood, Ariz.
A witness told investigators that Carroll picked up friends in the vehicle Sunday morning, the complaint said.
Bartz's body was discovered in a pool of blood Sunday by another nun, who went to check on her after she failed to show up for mass in nearby Sawmill, Ariz.
Carroll was arrested Thursday and charged under Navajo law with the unauthorized use of a car that had belonged to Bartz, which was stolen four days after her murder, Navajo Nation court records and authorities said. He allegedly led officers on a chase through residential areas of Navajo, Navajo Nation complaints said.
Carroll pleaded not guilty to a Navajo Nation reckless driving charge in Window Rock, Ariz. Navajo Nation court officials said he would remain in custody in Window Rock until Monday, when he is expected to be arraigned on two other minor charges related to the chase.
Friends and co-workers said Bartz was dedicated to working with the poor and oppressed and often counseled those with difficulties in the economically depressed town.
FBI spokesman Darrin Jones said Carroll did not know Bartz.
The Diocese of Gallup, which oversees the parish in Navajo, said in a statement that they are "relieved that law enforcement has apprehended and charged a suspect in this case."
"Though, there is a sense of grief in the Catholic community not just for the tragic loss of our sister, but also the gift she was to the people she so faithfully served," the statement said.
Sister Patricia Suchalski, president of Bartz's order, the 118-year-old Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, said the sisters and Bartz's family were trying to practice forgiveness ahead of her rosary Friday and her funeral Mass on Saturday. Bartz was the eldest of eight siblings.
"We will still work within our legal system of justice. It's not a matter of saying this is OK. It's not," Suchalski said. "But not to forgive would be to dishonor her life."
Associated Press Writer Felicia Fonseca contributed to this report from Flagstaff, Ariz.