MADERA — A 46-year-old North Fork man was formally arraigned Tuesday afternoon in Madera County Superior Court, charged with the Saturday night murder of Gaylen D. Lee, a widely respected Elder in the Mono Indian tribe.
Lee, 70, died July 6 after being shot at his home just off Cascadel Drive (Road 233) in North Fork.
Robert Eugene Moye, Jr., 46, also of North Fork, was arrested at the scene and is being held at the Madera County Jail on murder, attempted murder, and a host of other serious charges.
Moye had been living for several months in a relative’s house near Lee’s house, which is on the same property.
Two days before he was killed, Gaylen Lee lost his mother, Ruby, a renowned basket maker who died July 4.
“Gaylen called me the morning his mother died to tell me the news,” Supervisor Tom Wheeler said. “That was the last time we talked.”
Tuesday afternoon via a video conference appearance from the Madera County Jail, Moye heard the formal charges against him, which include murder, attempted murder, possession of an assault weapon and possession of marijuana/hashish for sale.
Initial bond for Moye was set at $3.75 million.
Moye, who reportedly threatened Gaylen Lee and several other family members earlier on the day the shooting occurred, is alleged to have been operating an illegal marijuana grow on the property, according to a preliminary report from the Madera County Sheriff’s Office.
Saturday night’s shooting has rocked North Fork, where Lee was a long-time leader and well-known member of the community.
“Especially for the tribal community, this is one hell of a big loss,” said Wheeler, who was a close friend of Lee’s.
The Tribal Council of the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians of California issued this statement regarding Lee’s passing:
“The North Fork Rancheria is deeply shaken and saddened by news of the death of our beloved tribal elder, citizen and employee, Mr. Gaylen D. Lee. His passing is a great loss and tragedy to the families involved, our Tribe and our entire community. The Tribal Council would like to express our deepest sympathy and support to Mr. Lee’s family as well as to all the tribal citizens, North Fork neighbors, and countless others that knew and loved him over his many years of service and care to our community.”
Similar sentiments extolling Lee’s many contributions to the area were echoed throughout eastern Madera County.
“Gaylen was so well respected,” Wheeler said Tuesday. “He was a leader and a peacemaker, so compassionate, so willing to help others.
Lee and his wife Judy, who died several years ago, used to run an interpretive trail at their house in North Fork.
“They used to take people out on tours and show folks about how Mono Indians really lived, how they gathered food and the materials to make baskets,” Wheeler said.
Lee, 70, was also the author of “Walking Where We Lived: Memoirs of a Mono Indian Family,” which was published by the University of Oklahoma Press in 1998 and is a personal history of Lee’s family in North Fork.
Earlier in his life, Lee actually worked for Wheeler at Wheeler’s North Fork upholstery business. “When we were younger, we used to hunt, fish, play basketball, go backpacking together.”
“I taught him how to do upholstery work and then he opened up his own shop in Oakhurst,” Wheeler added. “He was a successful businessman, too. Later, he put himself through school and got an anthropology degree. His passing is such a huge loss for this community.”
Madera County District Attorney Sally Moreno said Tuesday that she expects a bail review to be held for Moye later this week and a preliminary hearing to be scheduled for Friday, July 19.
Moreno said Deputy Brooke Bergman will be handling case. “I have every confidence in Brooke,” Moreno said. “She’s a terrific prosecutor.”
Meanwhile, said Moreno, “there is still an ongoing investigation happening. We’re working hard at making sure that we understand everything that went on so that we can prosecute the case. These cases take some time.”
This article was edited on July 10, 2019 to reflect an update to the residency of the accused and additional statements from the Sheriff’s Office.