A man charged in a fatal shooting on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in May has admitted helping the accused killers evade authorities.
Scott Edison Benson, 30, pleaded guilty Jan. 19 to being an accessory after the murder of Christopher Janis, 42, which happened near Sharps Corner. Benson faces up to 15 years in federal prison and three years of supervised release at his sentencing in May.
Benson said he saw the shooting, which authorities are pinning on his two companions at that time, Clarence Yellow Hawk and Jamie Shoulders.
A signed statement by Benson — which publicly lays out, for the first time, details surrounding Janis’ death — says the killing occurred while Benson was “arranging a purchase” with Janis inside the victim’s minivan. It’s not clear what was being purchased.
Benson was reportedly in the back seat of the minivan and Janis in the driver’s seat, when Shoulders appeared at the driver-door window.
“Benson witnessed Shoulders shoot Chris Janis through the window using a handgun, which broke the glass, and then fire another shot at Chris,” according to the written statement that accompanied Benson’s plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“As (Benson) was exiting the minivan, he looked back and saw Yellow Hawk appear at the window next to Shoulders, take the handgun from Shoulders, and shoot Chris Janis several additional times.”
Janis, of Vermillion, died from multiple gunshot wounds. It was the mid-afternoon of May 27, about 2 miles north of Sharps Corner.
Janis’ death was the first fatal shooting on Pine Ridge in 2017, a year that saw a total of five homicides on the reservation, according to FBI spokesman Craig Lisher.
After the shooting, Benson ran back into his vehicle together with Yellow Hawk and Shoulders, according to the statement. Benson drove to another person’s house, where the men split up.
The gun used in the shooting belonged to Benson, but he didn’t know Shoulders and Yellow Hawk had it with them on the ride to meet Janis, the document states.
Benson’s other original charges — possession of a stolen firearm and possession of a firearm with an obliterated serial number — will be dismissed under the terms of his plea agreement.
The cases against his two co-defendants are still ongoing.
Yellow Hawk, 28, is facing federal charges of first-degree murder, discharge of a firearm during a crime of violence, as well as possession of a firearm with an obliterated serial number. The firearm was identified as a Sig Sauer P226 semiautomatic pistol.
Shoulders, 25, is charged with the same firearm offenses and second-degree murder.
Shoulders and Yellow Hawk, who also goes by the names Robert Pullian and Clarence Yellow Elk, could be sentenced to as much as life in prison if found guilty of murder.
All three men are detained at the Pennington County Jail.