Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Amber Langley, 38, is escorted back to jail from court after a preliminary hearing on Wednesday. Langley is being held on a $200,000 bond on fraud and theft charges. Authorities believe Langley was involved in the murder disposal of her 14-year-old autistic daughter. The body was found near the corrals off Artesia Road while continuing to receive government assistance for the child for two years. The body was found on Oct. 26, 2020, and was only recently identified.
Police say Amber Langley defrauded the government
By Jon Johnson
“We will figure it out. We’ll keep plugging away at it until we resolve it.”– Graham County Sheriff P.J. Allred in October 2020 regarding the child’s murder
GRAHAM COUNTY – The mother of a previously unidentified autistic child who was shot execution-style in the back of the head and dumped in a livestock watering box southeast of Safford has been arrested on fraud charges with likely homicide charges forthcoming.
The suspect, Amber Langley, 38, of Safford, is believed to have been involved in the killing and body dump of her 14-year-old autistic daughter, Cadance Langley, in October 2020. Amber then continued to collect government assistance for the deceased child for two years totaling a little more than $4,700.
The Graham County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment regarding any pending charges relating to Cadance’s death other than to say it was still under investigation and that a press release should be forthcoming in the next couple of days. The Sheriff’s Office also didn’t comment on the possibility of an accomplice, such as the boyfriend Amber was living with, or another family member.
On Wednesday, Amber Langley appeared in front of Justice of the Peace District 1 Judge Gary Griffith for a preliminary hearing with her appointed attorney, Dennis McCarthy. Graham County Attorney L. Scott Bennett represented the state.
Amber Langley was arrested on Aug. 24 on charges of fraudulent schemes artifices and theft after a phone call from the FBI was fruitful. Homicide charges have yet to be filed but are possibly forthcoming.
On Oct. 26, 2020, quail hunters located what turned out to be Cadance’s deceased body discarded in a bag off Artesia Road near the corrals roughly eight miles east of U.S. Highway 70. The bag was found partially underwater.
Due to the body’s decomposition, investigators had trouble identifying her. After a year, the best descriptors still came from her autopsy, showing her to be between 13 to 15 years old at the time of her death. The autopsy also listed the cause of death as a gunshot to the back of the head and reportedly found bullet fragments in her skull.
The Sheriff’s Office joined forces with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, who assisted by posting information on their website. The body was in a state of decomposition, but with assistance from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the Pima County Office of Medical Examiner, a likeness was generated based on measurements and other information.
On Wednesday, Graham County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Mark Smith testified at the preliminary hearing and spoke of how a tooth, a single hair, and a piece of bone led investigators to Amber Langley through familial DNA searching. The same type of investigative tool has been used to identify murderers such as the “Golden State Killer” in California and bring them to justice.
A tooth and a hair went to a laboratory in California and a bone fragment went to the FBI. From that, a familial DNA profile was created and the Sheriff’s Office was contacted by Innovated Forensic Investigations, which used the familial DNA profile to perform a genealogical investigation which indicated the victim was the daughter of Amber Langley, according to Smith’s testimony.
After the identities were known, Sgt. Smith said their investigation showed Amber was receiving benefits for Cadence from October after the child’s deceased body was found up until currently. During a “redetermination interview” phone call from the FBI on June 7, 2022, Amber Langley reportedly told the FBI agent that Cadance was alive and well. She also said they were living with Amber’s mother in Springfield, Oregon when she was actually living in Graham County.
Amber sat expressionless for most of the time prior to the start of the hearing, her hair in two ponytails on each side of her head as her legs bounced with nervous energy. Her attorney, McCarthy, declined to speak regarding the merit of the charges against his client. During a 5-minute recess, McCarthy spoke calmly to Amber, who had begun to cry. McCarthy reminded her that this hearing was only on the fraud and theft charges and not the homicide.
What McCarthy did do was challenge the $500,000 bond Amber Langley was being held with on only theft and fraud charges. He described the amount as grossly exaggerated for the crimes listed, advised of her Air Force veteran status, and that she has other children still living with her.
“We have cases coming through this court every week involving fraudulent schemes and artifices and money being taken and the bonds are never half million dollars cash or paper,” McCarthy said. “This is ludicrous. It’s a violation of the 8th Amendment of the United States Constitution of excessive (inaudible). My client’s rights are being deprived by that excessive bond. If the state has a case, then file . . . If they’ve got DNA, if they’ve got witnesses, then they need to file the case and get a bond on that case. But they haven’t. It’s improper for the court to take Mr. Bennett’s arguments into consideration, in my estimation, on a $5,000 case. . . This is a fraud scheme that’s before you . . .”
McCarthy then requested the bond be reduced from $500,000 to $3,000 in cash or paper.
Bennett argued that Amber Langley is facing “more serious charges” and that the court can rule on the amount due to the “likeliness to return” and that the $500,000 bond was appropriate given the other circumstances.
Judge Griffith appeared to acquiesce to McCarthy’s request somewhat and reduced her bond to $200,000, cash or paper. Griffith also ruled there was sufficient evidence to bind the matter over to the Graham County Superior Court and set an arraignment date for Tuesday, Sept. 13, at 8:30 a.m.
The case is reminiscent of the Makayla Sanchez murder in which a 3-year-old girl was beaten to death by her mother’s boyfriend, Joshua Matthew Cisneros, and then buried in the backyard of their Thatcher residence. That case took two years of fraud involving government assistance for Makayla until it was learned she hadn’t been seen since March 25, 2012. In July 2014, Makayla’s body was exhumed and her mother, Anna Sanchez, and Cisneros were charged in the case.
Cisneros was found guilty of murder in the second degree, child abuse, forgery, and more, and was given a maximum sentence of 40 years. He is scheduled to be eligible for release on Dec. 31, 2052.
Anna Sanchez was found guilty of child abuse, concealing a dead body, unlawful use of food stamps, and two counts of forgery. She received a 17-year sentence and is scheduled to be released from prison on June 13, 2033.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated to correct the spelling of Cadance Langely’s name from “Cadence.”