ISLETA — An Isleta Pueblo woman faces federal charges that she used a bread knife to fatally slit the throats of her two young sons last week at the family’s home. 

Mariah Zuni, 32, of Isleta Village appeared in federal court for her initial appearance Monday on two counts of first-degree murder, court records show. 

Mariah Zuni

Zuni allegedly cut the throats of two sons, ages 5 years old and 9 months, according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court of New Mexico. 

When officers asked why she had killed her sons,  the complaint says Zuni told them she had felt unable to protect her sons, the complaint said. 

“I knew in my heart it was the only way to protect them,” she told officers. 

Zuni also told officers that she used a bread knife because it was as quick and painless as possible. 

Isleta Police also found a 10-year-old girl, identified as “J.E.” in documents, unharmed in the household. 

Police relied largely on the girl’s account because her father was outdoors working at the time, the complaint said. 

Zuni made her initial appearance Monday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Kirtan Khalsa in Albuquerque. She will remain in custody pending a detention hearing scheduled for Wednesday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Mexico said in a written statement. 

Zuni faces a possible sentence of life in prison if convicted of the charges. Felony crimes committed on tribal lands are prosecuted in federal court. 

Isleta Police Department officers responded at 12:25 p.m. Thursday to a 911 call from the boys’ father, who reported “a child not breathing and unresponsive.” 

When an officer arrived at the home, the father said “my son is gone” and told the officer to detain Zuni, the complaint said. 

Zuni “then made an excited utterance to the effect of ‘he needed to die,’” the complaint said. The officer noted that Zuni appeared to have blood on her hands and neck that had been partially washed off. 

“Zuni then made an additional excited utterance that she did it to protect another child, J.E., from a sex ring at school,” the complaint said. 

An Isleta officer exited the residence carrying J.E., a 10-year-old girl, who appeared unharmed. J.E. told the officer, “dad didn’t do it” because he was outside the residence at the time of the killings, the complaint said. 

Isleta Police then contacted FBI agents, who responded to the scene. 

The girl told officers that Zuni put the younger boy down for a nap at about 8 or 9 that morning. J.E. and her 5-year-old brother were playing outside while their father “was working in the field,” the complaint said. 

Zuni first called the 5-year-old boy into the house, the girl told police. Zuni later came outside and asked the girl if she wanted to watch a movie and said “your brothers were so, so tired.” 

Zuni told J.E. not to go into the boys’ room because they were sleeping, the complaint said. 

“After Zuni stood up, J.E. was searching for the remote control and touched the handle of an item J.E. believed to be a knife,” the complaint said. 

The girl told police that her father came into the house and checked on the boys. He then started yelling at Zuni asking, “Why honey? Why?” 

Zuni responded, “I had no choice. I had no choice,” the complaint said. 

The girl also told police that Zuni had taken the three children out of school and would not let people visit them, it said. 

Later the day of the killings, officers interviewed Zuni, who said that she was unable to protect her sons. 

“She thought this was the only way she could protect them,” the complaint said. Zuni was said to have told the officer: She took them out of this cruel, evil world and put them with her dad. 

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Olivier Uyttebrouck | Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer