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Shelter residents share and receive Christmas joy at Cornerstone

Holding her gift of Santa-themed socks, Alvina DeMarrias sat down at a table covered with a peppermint-patterned tablecloth in the dining room of the Cornerstone Rescue Mission on Christmas morning. 

She hugged Mary Standart, who she calls part of her "mission family," at the Rapid City homeless shelter. 

"We're all family here," DeMarrias said. "I feel so at home," said Standart, who described herself as a usually shy person. 

DeMarrias, 59, and Standart, 62, said whether its Christmas or just your average day, residents at the shelter support each other spiritually and emotionally, as if they were family. 

On Christmas, people who live or eat at the shelter received joy not just from their friends, but also from a homemade breakfast of pancakes, scrambled eggs and ham. 

"This is a luxury here," said 48-year-old Dominic Janis as he poured syrup over his pancakes.

Janis said breakfast usually consists of cereal, oatmeal and pastries. 

The special meal was cooked up by 61-year-old Russell Salamun and five of his family members. Salamun, an EMT on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation, school-bus driver and youth pastor, has been making Christmas breakfast at the shelter for the past 21 years. 

Food "brings us all together" and the feeling of helping others is better than opening Christmas gifts, he said. 

The Salamun family also gave away drawstring backpacks filled with socks, hats and gloves. 

DeMarrias said she's been at the shelter for about a week after moving from Kansas to take care of her three grandchildren, who are living in a motel with their mother. She plans to see her grandchildren later today and give them gifts she bought with gift cards she received from the shelter. 

An Army veteran, DeMarrias said she and her grandchildren will soon move into an apartment with help from the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

Standart said she was living in a motel in northern California and felt so alone after her son moved away last spring.

People at the mission "changed my whole outlook on life," she said. 

Standart said she arrived in Rapid City earlier this month and has been living at the shelter while her son is staying with friends in Sturgis after his trailer burned down. She plans to move in with her son once he saves up enough money for an apartment, but said she didn't think he would have enough gas money to visit her on Christmas. 

Standart and DeMarrias said they plan to stay in touch once they move into their apartments. 

Janis, who said he's lived at the shelter or an apartment for the past five years based on how much money he makes as a landscaper, said he remains in contact with people he met at the mission who've become like family to him. 

The Christmas breakfast is "for people that can't afford" a tree, meal or presents, he said. "I'm glad this place is here for that."

Janis said Christmas is just another day for him, but he knows it's special for the youth at the shelter. 

"I can see them happy," he said. "That's my present," Janis said, saying it made him sad to see children without homes. 

Singing "Feliz Navidad" as he walked around the dining room, Dymar Blanton, 30, seemed just as excited for Christmas as the little kids. 

"It's a really happy time, even for people who don't have families," he said, adding that you see the good in people during Christmas.

Blanton said he and others have received random gifts — such as $50 bills, jackets and gift cards —  from strangers during this holiday season. But he also enjoys giving.

He said he tries to help others out with his food stamps or wages from his job at Qdoba, and will deliver toy ponies and cars for his friend's children when he joins them for Christmas dinner.

Blanton said he was in a bad place when he moved to Rapid City from Colorado in August. But after a few months, he said, he's feeling positive because the mission helped him get a job, obtain an ID and find an apartment. 

He said he's moving into his new home next week after dealing with homelessness for the past 15 years. He said the mission will pay for his deposit and first month of rent. 

We're "trying to better ourselves," Blanton said, saying people shouldn't think all homeless people steal or use drugs.

1 dead in plane crash in Sioux Falls neighborhood

SIOUX FALLS — A single-engine airplane has crashed into a Sioux Falls neighborhood, leaving at least one person dead and four homes evacuated.

The Argus Leader reported that officials believe the person who died in Tuesday evening's crash was the pilot of the aircraft. Sioux Falls Emergency Manager Regan Smith said the person who died succumbed to injuries in the crash, and that more fatalities are possible from the incident.

The crash was reported about 5 p.m. CST and occurred in the 4200 block of south Birchwood Avenue, the Argus Leader reported,

Smith said officials got reports of exterior damage to two homes and left large debris.

The exact number of people in the plane and homes wasn't immediately clear.

Grace Chinn, who lives near an affected home, said the crash "shook our whole house."

Smith said a fire at the scene was extinguished within minutes.

Sioux Falls Police are scheduled to have updates on the crash at 9:30 a.m. MST Wednesday, the Argus Leader reported.

Lifted gag order in Butina case could affect SD's Erickson
Dueling arguments reference 'potential future defendants'

A recently vacated “gag order” in the prosecution of an illegal Russian foreign agent could negatively affect South Dakotan Paul Erickson, prosecutors have indicated.

The Russian agent, Maria Butina, took a plea deal and pleaded guilty Dec. 13 in Washington, D.C. She acknowledged conspiring with a Russian official and someone else described as “U.S. Person 1” to infiltrate and influence American political groups on behalf of Russia, without required registration as a foreign agent. “U.S. Person 1” is widely believed to be Butina’s boyfriend, Erickson.

Butina will be sentenced at a later date and has a status conference scheduled in February; meanwhile, lawyers on each side of her case filed opposing arguments last week about a court-ordered prohibition against speaking to the media.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, who filed the order in September, vacated the order on Friday after reviewing arguments from both sides. The order had prohibited all parties in the case from making statements to the media or in other public settings that could pose a substantial likelihood of material prejudice to the case.

When Chutkan vacated the order Friday, she also issued this warning: "Attorneys are reminded to adhere to Local Criminal Rule 57.7(b)." That rule, which pertains to the conduct of attorneys in criminal cases, includes some prohibitions against certain kinds of public statements and releases of information to the public.

The prosecution wanted the September order to remain in place through Butina’s sentencing, for several reasons. One reason pertains to Butina’s promise, in her plea agreement, to cooperate with federal, state and local law enforcement.

“Keeping the order in place through sentencing would safeguard the rights of any potential defendants who may later be charged in connection with this matter, especially if any other person is charged as a result of the defendant’s cooperation,” the prosecution wrote.

There is rampant speculation that Erickson could be a future defendant. Although the identity of “U.S. Person 1” has not been formally disclosed, court documents say U.S. Person 1 and Butina cohabited. Butina’s attorney, Robert Driscoll, has described Erickson as Butina’s boyfriend.  

Prior to the imposition of the September “gag order,” as Driscoll describes it, he spoke at length about the Butina case in the media. He filed a document last week asking for the order to be lifted.

“Because the plea has already occurred, it is hard to imagine an instance in which there could be a ‘substantial likelihood’ that a statement could influence the fair administration of justice, as the parties responsible for that administration at this point are the court, the government, and defense counsel, all of whom are sophisticated parties likely to be unaffected by media coverage,” Driscoll wrote.

Driscoll did not immediately respond to messages from the Journal, and the prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia have consistently declined to comment on the Butina case while it's pending.

Erickson has kept a low profile throughout the Butina prosecution, but his lawyer, William Hurd, recently issued a statement to the media. “Paul Erickson is a good American,” the statement said. “He has done nothing to harm our country and never would.”

Erickson grew up in Vermillion and has had a Sioux Falls apartment in recent years. His colorful life prior to his involvement with Butina included working as a top staffer in Pat Buchanan’s 1992 presidential campaign, and serving as an entertainment agent for John Wayne Bobbitt after Bobbitt’s penis was infamously severed in 1993.

Erickson, 57, and Butina, 30, reportedly met several years ago while she was operating a gun-rights group in Russia and was cultivating connections with American gun-rights activists.