A man charged in a deadly beating on Pine Ridge in 2015 has been made a scapegoat of the real instigators, a federal jury was told Monday.
It was the first day of trial for Calmer Cottier, 25, charged with second-degree murder in the death of Ferris Brings Plenty, 30. Cottier is also facing counts of conspiracy to commit assault and solicitation to commit a crime of violence.
Cottier is the only one among the case’s six defendants to go to trial; the others have already pleaded guilty and been sentenced.
The three men convicted of second-degree murder — Steven Steele, Terry Goings III and Jerome Warrior — have all implicated Cottier in the crime that occurred in the early hours of July 12, 2015.
In the statement of facts the men provided as part of their plea deals, they 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.”
They did not find the man they sought, Aaron Little Bear. Rather, they stumbled upon Brings Plenty sleeping in a tent in his mother’s backyard.
Cottier, the men said, initiated the attack by throwing a cinder block at Brings Plenty when he came out of the tent. 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, and striking him with a machete in the back of the head.
The group left Brings Plenty “lying and dying in his backyard,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathryn Rich told jurors during the trial’s opening statements.
The prosecutor said Cottier started the sequence of events that culminated in the death, and he has admitted to the FBI being present at the scene and assaulting Brings Plenty.
The defense attorney, meanwhile, said Cottier’s co-defendants blamed him for the attack because he was an outsider.
“Calmer was the only one who lived in Rapid City,” his attorney Nate Nelson said. “He was the only one who left the reservation.”
It was in fact Steele and Goings who had exchanged derogatory gang words with Little Bear, and Jerome Warrior who got the men riled up “to defend their gang’s honor,” Nelson told the court. Cottier, he said, belonged to the same gang as Little Bear, so it would not make sense for him to be involved in the fight.
“Calmer didn’t want to go there and fight. He wanted to go there and watch,” Nelson said. Cottier was also the one who put a stop to the assault, the lawyer said, though he admitted the defendant was involved in a “man-to-man, one-on-one fight” with Brings Plenty before the others jumped in.
The trial, before Chief Judge Jeffrey Viken, is scheduled to run through Friday at the Rapid City federal courthouse.
Among the witnesses to be called is one of Cottier’s co-defendants, who is expected to give testimony that diverges from his statement of facts, said Rich. She said the witness, who was not identified in court, might expose himself to perjury charges.
Cottier is detained at the Pennington County Jail. If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of life in prison. Steele and Goings were both sentenced to 17 years, and Warrior to 14 years.