A man found guilty of a 2015 Pine Ridge murder was sentenced Tuesday to 17-1/2 years in federal prison, bringing to a close a case in which seven people were charged.
A jury in June convicted Calmer Cottier, 26, of second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit assault in the death of Ferris Brings Plenty, 30. Cottier was accused of instigating Brings Plenty’s fatal beating in the early hours of July 12, 2015, which prosecutors said stemmed from gang rivalries on the reservation.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Megan Poppen asked for a prison sentence within the 20 to 25 years Cottier was facing, citing his role instigating, planning, directing and participating in the attack.
“It was an act of animals,” the prosecutor said. “They didn’t care who they got, as long as they got someone.”
Cottier’s lawyer, on the other hand, asked for a 10-year sentence. Defense attorney Nate Nelson maintained that Cottier was only guilty of assault — not murder — for a “one-on-one” fight with the victim. And that Cottier was the one who told the group of attackers to stop.
Nelson, whose request for a new trial was denied, emphasized that the jury returned the wrong verdict. Cottier just wanted to watch a fight, he said, but ended up being blamed for the attack because he had become a Pine Ridge “outsider” after moving to Rapid City.
Five of Cottier's co-defendants have pleaded guilty and been sentenced, including three men for second-degree murder.
At the Rapid City hearing Tuesday, Nelson said the men pleaded guilty to obtain deals with the U.S. Attorney’s Office but didn’t tell the whole truth in their sworn statements.
In the written statements, the three men said Cottier incited the group to go to the home of Brings Plenty’s mother to fight a man with whom Cottier had earlier exchanged “derogatory gang words.”
The group did not find the man they sought, but stumbled on Brings Plenty sleeping in a tent in the backyard. Cottier initiated the attack by throwing a cinder block at Brings Plenty when he came out of the tent, the men said.
The others also assaulted Brings Plenty by kicking him in the head and face once he fell to the ground, hitting him with a bat, beating him with a stick in the head and torso, as well as striking him with a machete in the back of the head.
Authorities said he died from head injuries, including a skull fracture and brain hemorrhage.
“It’s been 28 months now,” said Brings Plenty’s mother, Jerilyn Quiver, who found her son bleeding in her backyard. “Every time I come up here, it seems like yesterday. It hurts every time.”
Quiver said she might be able to forgive her son’s other attackers, but not Cottier, who knew Brings Plenty and shared relatives with them.
She talked about her son’s cheerful disposition and lack of desire for violence. “I guess he’s smiling for everyone in heaven now,” Quiver said, then turned to Cottier with blazing eyes. “I hope you go to hell.”
Before pronouncing Cottier’s sentence, the judge said Brings Plenty’s murder was a very human act though a “senseless killing of a completely innocent person.”
Given everything he knew about the case, Viken said 17-1/2 years was a just sentence for the murder. He also sentenced Cottier to concurrently serve 10 years for conspiracy to commit assault. The prison time will be followed by five years of supervised release.
Viken said also that he doesn’t always agree with the jury’s verdict, but it is the established system in which the United States seeks to arrive at the truth when facts are in dispute.