FARMINGTON — A Bloomfield man pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in federal court in Albuquerque on Thursday in the choking death of his former girlfriend.

Jasper Fernandez, 38, faces eight to 10 years in prison in the slaying of Vernita Jose, 36, on Nov. 4, 2011, and whose body was buried in a shallow grave, officials said.

Jose's body was found on Dec. 16, 2011.

Fernandez admitted in court that he hit Jose's head against a pillar of her car and choked her to death. He then buried her naked body about 15 miles southeast of Farmington on County Road 7100 off of U.S. 371 and within the Navajo Nation, said U.S. Attorney Kenneth J. Gonzales.

He also attempted to cover-up the crime by driving Jose's vehicle back to her home at Eaton Village Apartments and texting her phone messages to give himself an alibi, Gonzales said.

Jose's family members reported her missing the night of her death and the San Juan County Sheriff's Office started a missing-person investigation. The FBI started its investigation on Dec. 16, when stray dogs carried Jose's skull to a woman's house near the grave site.

Fernandez was Jose's former boyfriend. When FBI agents interviewed him on Jan. 4, he told them he was with Jose the night she disappeared and they got into an argument and she drove away and left him on the side of U.S. 550 near the Hilltop Mustang Gas Station, according to the criminal complaint filed against him.


During follow-up interviews with FBI agents, Fernandez admitted that he killed Jose in her car during a heated argument while he was intoxicated.

"Fernandez stated she began hitting and kicking him in the back seat," the criminal complaint states. "He had a rush of adrenaline and ... held her by the throat for one minute until he felt her go limp."

He told investigators he buried her body, clothes and other personal belongings, including her Bible, in a three-foot-deep grave he dug with a shovel.