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Navajo president calls slayings of two Native men a hate crime

By Joseph J. Kolb

ALBUQUERQUE N.M. (Reuters) - The president of the Navajo Nation condemned the beating deaths of two Native American homeless men in New Mexico as a hate crime, and called on Thursday for a federal investigation into slayings that police have blamed on three teenagers.

Prosecutors have charged three Hispanic teens, ages 15, 16 and 18, with murder in the fatal beatings of the homeless men on July 18 in Albuquerque in violence so brutal it left the men's bodies badly disfigured. The suspects are being held on $5 million bond each.

"Given the violent and hateful nature of these attacks, the Navajo Nation would like to have this incident investigated as a hate crime," Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly said, adding he wanted a federal investigation.

Shelly, who has called the attack "beyond senseless," met with Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry on Thursday to discuss ways to protect the city's homeless population.

"I told President Shelly that I have directed the Albuquerque police investigators to thoroughly look into that aspect," Berry said, referring to the hate crime allegation. "This particular incident is one of the saddest things I've seen since becoming mayor."

According to a criminal complaint filed by police, the two younger teens live across the street from the vacant lot on Albuquerque's west side where the killings took place. The lot is often used as a drinking spot and occasional campsite by some of the city's homeless.

The complaint said the 16-year-old suspect admitted to officers he and the other two suspects had beaten more than 50 people in random attacks over the past year, but that they went too far in the latest assault.

It added he told investigators that after returning from a party, the teens heard voices coming from the lot and found three men whom they attacked with punches, kicks, bricks, cinder blocks and a metal pole. One of the men was able to flee.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Peter Cooney)

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