- Associated Press - Sunday, July 30, 2017

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - A suspect is expected to change his plea in the kidnapping, sexual assault and killing of an 11-year-old girl in a remote part of the largest American Indian reservation that prompted an effort to expand the Amber Alert system into tribal communities across the U.S.

More than a year after the May 2016 death of Ashlynne Mike in Navajo Nation, Tom Begaye is scheduled to attend a change-of-plea hearing Tuesday in an Albuquerque federal court. It’s not known if his lawyers and federal prosecutors have struck a deal.

Begaye previously pleaded not guilty to murder, sexual abuse and other charges.

Begaye is from the small town of Waterflow near the unincorporated agricultural community of Lower Fruitland, where Mike lived with her father and siblings, according to the FBI. The town is near the Navajo reservation.

Begaye lured Mike and her brother into his van, authorities say. The girl’s brother told police the man took them deep into the desert and then walked off with the girl and a tire iron in hand before returning alone.

Begaye told investigators he sexually assaulted the girl and hit her twice in the head with a crowbar, and that she was still moving when he left her in the desert, according to court documents. Her body was later found in the remote area.

The younger brother was able to escape.

Mike’s father filed a lawsuit against the Navajo Nation for failing to have an emergency notification system that he says could have saved his daughter’s life.

An Amber Alert wasn’t issued in New Mexico until around 2 a.m. the morning after Mike’s disappearance.

An Amber Alert system for the 27,000-square-mile (69,930-square-kilometer) reservation was proposed years ago but never implemented, despite the tribe having been awarded $330,000 in federal funding as part of a U.S. Justice Department pilot project.

Half the money was used to buy equipment such as megaphones and pop-up tents, but the rest went unspent.

The Navajo Nation covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona introduced legislation in April that would expand the notification system to tribal lands. McCain said more than 7,700 American Indian children are listed as missing in the U.S.

Mike’s family and other tribal members are expected to attend the change of plea hearing.

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This story has been corrected to say that Waterflow, New Mexico, is a town near the Navajo reservation — not in the reservation.

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Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at https://twitter.com/russcontreras

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