The Case of the Fatal Femme

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Schechterle manages a smile for his mentor. Getting assigned to work with Ballentine is a thrill for the 32-year-old, and it's his first as a co-case agent.

Not so long ago, even the thought of Schechterle in this position seemed implausible.

In March 2001, his police cruiser had burst into flames after a speeding taxi rear-ended it. The officer suffered near-fatal burns over 40 percent of his body, especially to his face and torso. Schechterle survived, but only after undergoing dozens of surgeries. Through it all, he remained unwavering in his desire to return to police work.

But the father of three knew he never could be a street cop again, in part because he'd lost several fingers in the fire and couldn't grip a gun correctly. A job in community relations seemed the best that the department could do for him.

Jack Ballentine had another idea.

Before the accident, Schechterle had aced a class for aspiring detectives that Ballentine teaches. Ballentine had always liked the younger cop, and the two became close after the terrible accident.

In early 2004, Ballentine persuaded the department to give Schechterle a chance with the homicide unit. His first assignment was to shadow the detectives of C-32, and do whatever they asked him to do. In early March 2005, with Ballentine extolling his virtues, homicide Lieutenant Benny Pina increased the greenhorn detective's responsibilities.

The large amount of blood inside the murder scene leads Ballentine to suspect that someone gunned down the victim on the road and then pushed him down the small embankment.

But the man probably hadn't died immediately, as finger marks on the small slope suggest he tried to claw his way back up to the road before slipping back.

The gray fuse-box cover is spattered with blood, presumably the victim's, and Ballentine knows its identification number will probably reveal the kind of car the victim had driven to the scene.

The detectives note that the dead man was wearing a red shirt and black pants, and a belt buckle engraved with the letter K.

A quick examination of the body reveals he had been shot in the torso, more than once. But the victim lacks identification, which means police will have to see if his fingerprints provide them with a name.

As Jack Ballentine is checking out the grisly crime scene, a white Chevy Cavalier pulls into a driveway on the Gila River Indian Reservation, about seven miles away.

Sixty-year-old Mildred Davis lives in a home on Sundust Circle there, just north of Pecos Road. She shares the residence with her daughter, Lolita Carlisle.

Though the house sits in the town of Laveen, its location on the reservation means it falls under tribal jurisdiction, inside what amounts to a foreign nation.

It's 9 in the morning, and Carlisle's daughter, 21-year-old Samantha Somegustava, walks into the house with a guy a few years younger than she.

Samantha tells her mother and grandmother that she's been given the Cavalier in their driveway by a friend.

But Mildred Davis is suspicious. Her granddaughter has brought stolen cars to the residence in the past. The previous November, Samantha had been convicted in Maricopa County Superior Court of felony car theft, and served a short jail term.

Her pre-sentence report lists Samantha as a ninth-grade dropout last employed in 2002 at a casino. A single mother of a young son, she then was collecting $1,000 a month in welfare from her tribe.

Lolita Carlisle later says Samantha and her younger male friend had taken her in the Cavalier that morning to the nearby Vee Quiva casino, where she'd gambled for an hour or two.

When Carlisle is done gambling, Samantha -- who is alone by then -- picks her up and drives her back home. Mother and daughter soon leave again, this time in Mildred Davis' van, ostensibly to put gas in the vehicle at a nearby Shell station on the reservation.

But Davis gets irate when the pair doesn't return immediately, as promised. About 1 p.m., she calls the Gila River tribal police to report that the Cavalier -- still in the driveway -- is possibly stolen.

Shortly after Davis phones the police, Samantha and her mother return in the van. Samantha is rummaging around in the back seat of the Cavalier when an officer from the Gila River department shows up.

She flees on foot, tossing the car keys into a field behind a neighbor's home as she runs away.

The cop soon corrals Samantha, and arrests her for interfering with a police investigation. She remains in jail for one night before the Gila River police release her.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin