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Despite concerns she could incriminate or perjure herself, a woman accused of killing her toddler daughter testified Wednesday in the trial of her co-defendant and former boyfriend.

Zachariah Poor Bear, 24, is being tried for first-degree murder and assault resulting in serious bodily injury of a minor in the death of 19-month-old Aaliyah Horse three years ago. The toddler’s mother, Tracey Horse, was leveled similar charges as a juvenile delinquent, and not much was known about her case till Wednesday morning.

Horse, now 19, said she left Aaliyah with Poor Bear at his house in Pine Ridge in the afternoon of May 14, 2015, so she could look for some marijuana. She said Poor Bear was "mad" that he had to watch the toddler.

She returned late that evening and went to bed without approaching her daughter, because she said Poor Bear ordered her not to disturb the sleeping child.

The following morning, she said she woke up to Poor Bear screaming her name and holding Aaliyah. “There was blood coming out of her mouth,” Horse told a jury at the Rapid City federal courthouse. She was then 16.

Photo exhibits showed the deceased child lying in the couple's bed that morning, dressed only in diapers, with purple marks on her head, hand and abdomen.

Prosecutors accuse Poor Bear of fatally beating his girlfriend's daughter in the hours the child was alone with him. An autopsy found that Aaliyah had been “severely and repeatedly beaten,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Kelderman said in his opening statement Wednesday.

“She didn’t die from a fall in the tub a few days earlier,” Kelderman said, referring to an accident that Poor Bear said occurred while he was watching the child two days prior. “This is nothing other than severe abuse.”

Defense attorney Paul Winter said Poor Bear’s guilt is speculation because nobody knows who inflicted the child’s injuries, how, where or when.

“You’ll never hear that there was an abuse history with the child,” Winter said in opening. He also said Horse had described her romantic relationship with Poor Bear as “perfect” and that she “saw him as a refuge and protector.”

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Winter emphasized how Horse’s statements to federal authorities have changed over several interviews. These reportedly included the length of time she left the child in Poor Bear’s care on May 14 — the shortest being 30 minutes and the longest seven hours — to her kissing Aaliyah when she came home that night and seeing the child smile.

“At the end of the trial, you’ll be left with the same unanswered questions that remain unanswered today,” Winter said.

Horse said she lied because she was initially distrustful of the feds, she was confused with grief, and Poor Bear at times had told her what to say.

Horse remains charged in her daughter’s death, and her criminal file is sealed because she was charged as a juvenile. But prosecutors and her lawyer allowed her to publicly testify in Poor Bear's trial. 

Before she could take the stand, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Jeffrey Viken had to take up Winter’s concerns that Horse could make a false statement to protect her own case. But prosecutors said they have an agreement with Horse not to use her statements from specific interviews against her.

Poor Bear's trial continues today. If convicted of first-degree murder, he would face a mandatory life sentence; assault resulting in serious bodily injury of a minor, anywhere from 10 years to life in prison.

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Cops and Courts Reporter

Cops and courts reporter for the Rapid City Journal from February 2016 to July 2018. Contact her on Facebook or Twitter @tiffgtan.