ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- The man accused of gunning down a tribal police officer in a remote corner of the nation's largest American Indian reservation has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.
Kirby Cleveland faces a possible life sentence in the killing of Navajo Nation Officer Houston Largo, who was shot March 11, 2017, on a dark road in western New Mexico while responding to a domestic violence call.
A woman from the rural community where the killing happened saw flashing police lights the night of the shooting and found Largo lying on the road, face down and bleeding. She used the radio in Largo's patrol vehicle to call for help. The 27-year-old decorated officer died the next day at a hospital.
Cleveland was found hiding in the hills more than a mile (kilometer) away.
Cleveland recounted his version of events during a hearing Thursday in U.S. District Court. He said he didn't know that the person he was shooting at late that night was a police officer. He had been attacked by a group of bandits armed with bats just days before and he fired believing that the officer was another person who was out to get him.
The Albuquerque Journal reported that Cleveland admitted to acting with callous and wanton disregard for human life by firing his rifle after drinking that night.
Before the shooting, Cleveland's wife had called authorities saying he had been drinking and became angry, according to a criminal complaint. She drove him to an uncle's house.
The uncle was driving Cleveland back home when Largo stopped the vehicle, and shots rang out a short time later, authorities said. A criminal complaint said Cleveland walked home with his .22-caliber rifle and told his wife: "I shot that police officer, you need to go help him."
At the time, Cleveland was on probation for forcing his way into a home on the Navajo Nation in 2012 armed with a baseball bat and assaulting a woman. He served two years in prison.
"It's just a tragic thing all the way around," his attorney Donald Kochersberger said. "Officer Largo is dead and he shouldn't be, and Mr. Cleveland is going to go to prison for all or at least significant portion of the rest of his life. And it just all never should have happened."