STURGIS, S.D. - An all-white jury of 10 men and two women is hearing the first-degree murder and kidnapping trial of 16-year-old Robert Angelo Horse of Rapid City, charged in the June 16, 1999, death of Morning Star Shalimar Standing Bear.
Horse was ordered to stand trial on two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of felonious kidnapping at a preliminary hearing on Feb 3. Three of the charges carry maximum sentences of life without parole or the death penalty.
Chaske White and his purported girlfriend at the time, Dawn Frazier, have been convicted of the murder and are serving life sentences.
Horse, standing trial as an adult, sat quietly, almost timidly, as Meade County State's Attorney Jennifer Utter began her opening statements May 5. Sitting a few feet behind were three friends and relatives of the victim.
Utter's argument to the jury was based on forensic evidence and admissions by the defendant during taped interviews two days after the murder. Utter said bloody footprints matching the defendant's shoes, which also had matching blood on them, placed him at the scene.
Standing Bear's nude and bloody body was discovered by a Meade County rancher the morning of June 16, 1999, on a gravel road near Piedmont, S.D. Utter's opening remarks detailed how Standing Bear was brutally murdered. In a taped interview, Horse admitted to hitting the Lakota woman twice and knocking her down. He also said he kicked her often enough to make his foot too sore to walk on for two days.
An autopsy report indicates the cause of Standing Bear's death was severe trauma as a result of a blow to the head.
Defense Attorney Tim Rensch said, "Chaske White delivered the killing blow when he slammed Morning Star Standing Bear repeatedly in the head with a tire iron."
Horse had also earlier revealed he stabbed Standing Bear twice in the buttocks with a broken bottle. However, Rensch argued that Horse did this after he knew Standing Bear was already dead, and because he feared White.
Both White and Horse were members of a local gang called RTF (Real Thug Family).
Developing his theme that Horse lived in constant fear of the older White, Rensch told jurors how Horse's older brother Jerry helped to hold the 15-year-old down months before as White branded the letters RTF on his chest with a red-hot butter knife.
"From that day on Robert Horse lived in deathly fear of Chaske White," Rensch said.
He also indicated he intended to challenge the admissibility of the interview conducted by Division of Criminal Investigation investigator Pat West. Rensch said West used lies and intimidation techniques to force Horse, who has an IQ of 80, to admit to things "he was too dimwitted to understand."
The defense attorney accused West of coercion, subterfuge and intimidation in obtaining information from Horse. West interviewed Horse three times in fewer than 24 hours. Initially, Horse did not admit to any involvement with the crime, but Rensch said the 6-foot 2-inch, 230-pound West coerced admissions out of the 5-foot 9-inch, 115-pound Horse.
Rensch said that on the night White, Frazier and Horse picked Standing Bear up at a bar in Rapid City "the three had been drinking Budweiser, whiskey and sniffing coke."
Earlier, Prosecutor Utter said Standing Bear "had been celebrating her 22nd birthday for the last three days."
The four then attended a house party in Rapid City, after which they began to drive around town. Horse claims he passed out in the back seat of the car with Standing Bear and was awakened out on the gravel road by White who was screaming at him to hit Standing Bear.
The trial was expected to conclude within two weeks. If convicted, Horse could receive the death penalty for at least three of the counts.