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Mother and aunt of victims sentenced in Pine Ridge starvation case

The aunt and mother of two toddlers found emaciated on Pine Ridge in 2016 have been sentenced, bringing closer to an end a criminal case that reverberated far outside the reservation.

Darshan Featherman, 31, was sentenced Wednesday to 10 years in prison for felony child abuse and neglect. She earlier pleaded guilty to the offense, admitting withholding food from a 2-year-old girl — her sister’s daughter — who had been placed in her care.

The girl’s 3-year-old sister, meanwhile, had been left with Darshan’s mother, Roberta Featherman.

The toddlers were accidentally discovered at Roberta’s home when tribal police responded to a report of a fight at the Potato Creek residence on Nov. 11, 2016. A police search of the home later revealed that food had been hidden in the bedrooms, apparently so the toddlers couldn’t steal it.

A pediatrician who examined the children said they would have died if they hadn’t been found that night. Both weighed around 13 pounds, a third of the ideal weight for their age. The older one couldn’t walk and had apparently gone blind from head trauma inflicted by Roberta.

The doctor compared their level of starvation to those of World War II Holocaust victims, and said the psychological impact of such an abuse would be comparable to or greater than the physical pain.

“She had no subcutaneous tissue, just skin and bones,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Megan Poppen said of the child in Darshan’s custody, adding that the girls were systematically starved for about three months before they were discovered.

Their mother, Darcel Featherman, said she turned over the girls to her mother and sister in the spring of 2016 because she was homeless and didn’t have the means to raise them. Her seven other children were also left in the care of relatives whom she considered more stable, Darcel’s lawyer, Justin DiBona, told the court.

“In what world would you expect your own mother to starve your children?” DiBona said at Darcel's sentencing on Thursday. Darcel didn’t check up on the girls and didn’t know they were being abused, he added.

Darcel, 34, had also pleaded guilty to felony child abuse and neglect for abandoning her daughters to people whom she knew were unfit to take care of them. She admitted, in a written statement, knowing her mother was a “lifelong alcoholic with anger issues” and her sister was a “methamphetamine user and an alcoholic.”

Darshan and Roberta would use government aid to buy alcohol, and Darshan would pay her mother with alcohol to watch the 2-year-old girl, the prosecutor said.

Darshan wasn’t an innocent bystander, Poppen said, explaining she admitted knowing the toddlers were being starved and considered taking them to a doctor but did not. She recommended 10 years in prison for Darshan, which the court heeded.

Poppen asked for at least five years in prison for Darcel, but U.S. District Court Chief Judge Jeffrey Viken sentenced her to three years of probation. The court also ordered her to pay $4,300 as restitution to the Social Security Administration after misusing government aid meant for her son.

Viken said Darcel was not guilty of starving the children and had taken steps forward, such as finding employment and undergoing treatment.

He described the case as very unusual and “totally contrary to the Lakota culture.”

Darcel told the judge she struggled to comprehend how her mother and sister could have abused her daughters.

“I don’t understand,” she said. “I thought they were in their right mind to take care of them while I tried to get back on my feet.”

Roberta and a man who lived with her, Harold Red Owl, are facing charges of assault resulting in serious bodily injury and felony child abuse and neglect. Their cases are still being heard.

Three other co-defendants, who were staying at Roberta’s home and would have witnessed the toddlers’ suffering, were charged with lesser offenses. The charges against two were dismissed after they pleaded guilty to other offenses.

The judge told Darshan and Darcel that their mother might never be sentenced for her role in the toddlers’ abuse. Roberta has been diagnosed with progressive dementia, an organic brain problem, and has been committed to a mental institution.

The girls, who are now ages 3 and 4, are living with a foster family.

According to the prosecutor, the woman taking care of them said the children are doing better physically, but they’ll likely have lifelong battles with eating disorders.

“They don’t want to stop eating even when they’re full,” Poppen said.

Darshan’s lawyer acknowledged her client’s wrongdoing but said Darshan had also been a victim of abuse — by the father of her children and by Roberta.

“She is broken,” defense attorney Jennifer Albertson said in an emotional statement, adding that Darshan didn’t know where to turn for help about the girls. She asked Viken for a lenient sentence to show the Pine Ridge community that long prison sentences weren’t the only answer to such crimes.

When given a chance to speak, Darshan could only utter a few words: “I accept whatever punishment. I accept.”

The judge said the toddlers’ starvation was as close as one can get to a homicide without an actual death.

Showtime Boxing: Special Edition fight card originates tonight in Deadwood

DEADWOOD | In what is believed to be the first major pro boxing championship ever decided in South Dakota, the World Boxing Council's Super Lightweight title belt will be up for grabs tonight in a televised main event fight from the Deadwood Mountain Grand.

The main event features undefeated 140-pound contender Regis Prograis of New Orleans facing former unified world champion Julius Indongo of Namibia for the interim WBC Super Lightweight World Championships set for broadcast during Showtime Boxing: Special Edition starting at 8 p.m. mountain time.

"Quite honestly, I'm flabbergasted that this the first title fight in South Dakota. We're making history," said promoter Lou DiBella of DiBella Entertainment, presenting the first sporting event ever at the Deadwood Mountain Grand.

The televised part of the card opens with an eight-round heavyweight matchup featuring Craig Lewis of Detroit and Junior Fa of New Zealand.

Following the Lewis-Fa opening bout, veteran Petr Petrov will take on undefeated contender Ivan Baranchyk in a 140-pound co-feature with the winner having a shot at a potential IBF junior welterweight title bout.

The Showtime Boxing card was originally scheduled for a casino in Oklahoma before the venue's owner had to withdraw. The Deadwood Mountain Grand picked up the event only a few weeks ago, said general manager Susan Kightlinger.

Man arrested after 3-hour standoff
Incident ends peacefully after Special Response Team called to house

A wanted man who barricaded himself inside a Rapid City home was taken into custody Thursday morning after a three-hour standoff with police, including a tactical operations team.

Varden James Flood, 27, was arrested on felony drug warrants at a house near the corner of Main Street and Maple Avenue shortly before 10 a.m., said Capt. Tony Harrison of the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office.

Dozens of law enforcement officers were at the scene, including about 25 members of the county’s Special Response Team, a tactical operations unit that has assisted with barricaded suspects and serving high-risk drug warrants. 

The team was called in because of Flood’s history of violence and firearms, as well as the house’s proximity to Rapid City’s main thoroughfares and the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, said Harrison.

“We brought in extra resources to make sure the public was safe,” Harrison, who also serves as deputy commander of the team, said in a media briefing after Flood’s capture.

Sheriff’s deputies have been searching for Flood for weeks to serve warrants for possession of a controlled substance. A tip led them to the Main Street house Tuesday night, and a person who came out of the residence confirmed that Flood was inside, Harrison said.

Law enforcement started moving into the area around 7 a.m. Thursday. At one point, Harrison said, Flood walked onto the roof from a second-floor window and saw that the place was surrounded by police. He went back inside and later surrendered after negotiating with authorities.

“The person in the home controls the scenario,” Harrison said. “As soon as he comes out, we move on to the next thing.”

No weapons were found on Flood at the time of his arrest.

He was seen leaving the scene in handcuffs, driven away in a sheriff’s office patrol car. It was his birthday.

Trump says he'll meet with North Korea's Kim

WASHINGTON — After months of trading insults and threats of nuclear annihilation, President Donald Trump agreed to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jung Un by the end of May to negotiate an end to Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program, South Korean and U.S. officials said Thursday. No sitting American president has ever met with a North Korea leader.

The meeting would be unprecedented during seven decades of animosity between the U.S. and North Korea. The countries remain in a state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice and not a peace treaty.

"Great progress being made," Trump tweeted after the South Korean national security director, Chung Eui-yong, announced the plans to reporters in a hastily called appearance on a White House driveway.

Trump added that sanctions will remain in place until there's a deal.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said the summit will be a "historical milestone" that will put the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula "really on track."

In a statement read early today by his spokesman, Moon also complimented Trump for accepting Kim's invitation for a summit, saying Trump's leadership will be praised "not only by the residents of South and North Korea but every peace-loving person around the world."

Trump took office vowing to stop North Korea from attaining a nuclear-tipped missile that could reach the U.S. mainland, a goal that Pyongyang is on the cusp of reaching. He's oscillated between threats and insults directed at Kim that have fueled fears of war, and more conciliatory rhetoric.

The historic announcement comes during a period of unparalleled tumult in the West Wing, with the president's policy agenda stalled and morale sinking as staff departures proliferate and disrupt efforts to instill more discipline and order.

Trump clearly relished the news of the planned summit. He had made a surprise visit to the White House press briefing room on Thursday afternoon to alert reporters of a "major statement" on North Korea by South Korea. When asked by an ABC reporter if it was about talks with North Korea, he replied: "It's almost beyond that. Hopefully, you will give me credit."

Earlier Thursday, Chung had briefed Trump and other top U.S. officials about a rare meeting with Kim in the North Korean capital. During that meeting, the rival Koreas agreed to hold a leadership summit in late April, the first in a decade.

Kim "expressed his eagerness to meet President Trump as soon as possible," Chung told reporters. "President Trump appreciated the briefing and said he would meet Kim Jong Un by May to achieve permanent denuclearization."

The White House said Trump's meeting with Kim would take place "at a place and time to be determined."

"Kim Jong Un talked about denuclearization with the South Korean Representatives, not just a freeze," Trump said in a tweet. "Also, no missile testing by North Korea during this period of time."

It marks a dramatic shift in Trump's stance toward North Korea. He has threatened the pariah nation with "fire and fury" if its threats against the U.S. and its allies continued. He has derided Kim by referring to him as "Little Rocket Man." Kim has pilloried Trump as "senile" and a "dotard."

After Kim repeated threats against the U.S. in a New Year's address and mentioned the "nuclear button" on his office desk, Trump responded by tweeting that he has a nuclear button, too, "but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!"

North Korea appeared to confirm the summit plans. A senior North Korean diplomat at the United Nations in New York, Pak Song Il, told The Washington Post in an e-mail that the invitation was the result of Kim's "broad minded and resolute decision" to contribute to the peace and security of the Korean Peninsula.

By the "great courageous decision of our Supreme Leader, we can take the new aspect to secure the peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula and the East Asia region," Pak wrote.

On Tuesday after leaving Pyongyang, Chung had publicized that North Korea was offering talks with the United States on denuclearization and normalizing ties. But the proposal for a summit still came as a surprise, and will raise questions about whether the two sides are ready for such a high-level meeting.

Just a few hours earlier, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who is traveling in Africa, had said the adversaries were still a long way from holding negotiations.

Chung, who credited Trump's "maximum pressure" campaign for the diplomatic opening on the nuclear issue, said Kim understands that routine U.S.-South Korea military drills "must continue."

The drills were suspended during the Winter Olympics recently hosted by South Korea, which provided impetus for the inter-Korea rapprochement. The drills are expected to resume next month and had widely been seen as an obstacle to talks. North Korea has long protested the military maneuvers south of the divided Korean Peninsula as a rehearsal for invading the North.

When the South Korean delegation briefed Trump in the Oval Office, he was joined by a number of top advisers, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, chief of staff John Kelly and the director of national intelligence, among others, according to a senior Trump administration official who briefed reporters after the announcement. The official, who was not authorized to discuss the sensitive diplomatic issue by name and spoke on condition of anonymity, said there was no letter from Kim to Trump, just an oral briefing from the South Korean officials.