On a gray and chilly day, a 26-year-old Rapid City man was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Nathan Chase knew beforehand it was the only punishment he could receive after being convicted in a three-day trial last week of second-degree murder. His attorney said the law mandating a life sentence should be changed.
Pennington County prosecutors accused Chase of fatally stabbing 30-year-old Jeremy Little during an argument at the South Dakota Rose Inn in January. Chase argued that he acted in self-defense after Little was reported to police by his own mother as drunk and acting mean that same evening.
“I see a tragedy that took place over something that didn’t remotely rise to the level of the actions that took place,” Judge Matt Brown of the 7th Circuit Court said at the sentencing. He described Little’s killing as “inexcusable” and “an unnecessary crime.”
Chase’s having to live the rest of his life behind bars was also a tragedy, the judge said.
Chase, who moved from Montana just a few weeks before the killing, has several young children and is a talented artist, said his lawyer Ellery Grey. He also is a very spiritual person, Grey said, referring to Chase’s recorded interview with law enforcement in which he could be heard singing a prayer.
“There’s more to this young man before you,” Grey said, before telling the court that he objected to the mandatory nature of the sentence under state law. “The law should be changed at some point.”
Chase declined to speak when given a chance. He was again garbed in a red-striped jail uniform after being dressed during the trial in plain-colored long-sleeved shirts tucked into dress pants. Everyone else at his sentencing, including court staff and observers, was wearing black or gray.
Another charge that Chase was facing, simple assault against a law enforcement officer, will be dismissed, said county Deputy State's Attorney Josh Hendrickson.
Little’s death was the third of seven homicides in Rapid City this year, according to law enforcement. Only one of the other cases has been resolved: The defendant in a fatal stabbing on New Year’s Day was sentenced to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to second-degree manslaughter.
Before Chase was led out of the courtroom, the judge approved Grey’s request to be appointed to handle Chase’s appeal before the state Supreme Court.