A federal judge had to weigh a defendant's young age and abusive upbringing against the fact that he randomly killed a sleeping man with an ax while also being accused of three other brutal assaults.
Judge Jeffrey Viken ultimately decided Tuesday afternoon that Emery Arapahoe, III — a 19-year-old who was 16 and 17 at the time of the murder and alleged assaults — deserved a 31.8-year sentence for the murder and an associated arson.
Viken said he wasn't happy about giving a long prison sentence to such a young person but he just didn't see an alternative. You "just can't be out in the community" and "have a level of violence going on inside you that I've rarely seen" in my 42 years as a judge, defense lawyer and prosecutor, Viken told Arapahoe at the federal court in Rapid City.
Arapahoe was sentenced after pleading guilty to second-degree murder for killing 24-year-old Raymond "Ray" Waters Jr., and to arson for setting the trailer that Waters was inside on fire during the October 2017 incident in Allen.
He received 21.8 years for the murder (the maximum recommended under federal sentencing guidelines) and 10 years for the arson. Both crimes have a maximum punishment of life in prison. Viken said he would recommend the Bureau of Prisons first send Arapahoe to a mental health treatment facility. As part of the plea deal, prosecutors dropped charges of first-degree burglary and larceny, and dismissed two separate cases involving serious alleged assaults.
Arapahoe was transferred by Viken to adult court in February 2019 after first being charged in juvenile court, since he was a minor at the time of his three cases. No matter the crime, defendants in juvenile court can only be imprisoned until they are 21 or 26, depending on their age at the time they committed the crime, Neil Fulton, dean of the University of South Dakota School of Law and former federal public defender for the Dakotas, previously told the Journal.
"Nobody showed up for him," Arapahoe's defense lawyer Jennifer Albertson said Tuesday as she turned to the rows of empty seats behind her client.
That's how Arapahoe's entire life has been, she said, having no family or adults show up for him and being "beaten down and told he wasn't worth it."
It's "one of the worst childhoods ... that I've seen," Albertson said of her client, who was sexually abused by adults, given alcohol by his alcoholic mother, and beaten by his father, sometimes with jumper cables.
Albertson asked for Arapahoe to receive mental health treatment, saying prison won't do anything to treat his antisocial personality disorder and extreme anger problems stemming from his abuse. She said he started fights at the juvenile and adult jails in Rapid City, and is afraid he will die doing the same thing if he's put into prison with other murderers.
Arapahoe did not speak during the sentencing.
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Prosecutor Megan Poppen said Arapahoe is "long past" the chance to be rehabilitated, that he's not just a teen who made a "dumb mistake" but one who takes calculated steps to attack others. She said he's racked up 12 disciplinary actions at the adult jail since June, and has shown no remorse for killing Waters, a man who wouldn't even hurt a cockroach.
Arapahoe stole a pickup to drive to Waters before hitting him multiple times on the head with an ax, causing "extensive" fractures and bleeding. He then wrapped the bloody ax in a towel and put it in the pickup before setting the trailer on fire.
Getting rid of the murder weapon and possibly trying to destroy the entire crime scene "shows that he knew the gravity" of what he'd done, Poppen said. She called the murder a "senseless killing" with no clear motivation other than Arapahoe was acting on anger, opportunity and drunkenness.
Arapahoe didn't just murder Waters but left a "trail of victims in his wake," Poppen said.
Arapahoe gave a man multiple skull fractures after beating him with a plank of wood in 2017, she said of an alleged incident that doesn't appear in adult federal court records. She also referenced the two alleged assault cases dropped as part of the plea deal: an April 2017 attack where Arapahoe used a fence post to beat a man "to a pulp" and an attack just two weeks after the murder where he used his cowboy boots to stomp on a man, nearly causing his eyeball to fall out.
Cherish Waters said she doesn't want her brother to be known as just another Pine Ridge Reservation murder victim. She said her brother loved all people and animals, especially horses. He loved attending his nephews' birthdays, giving them gifts and passing on knowledge to them.
You've "haunted my dreams" but "I refuse to let you control my life" she said as she looked at Arapahoe.
Donna Salomon, Ray Waters' aunt, said Ray's father wasn't at the sentencing because he is in an inpatient mental health treatment facility to deal with grief from losing his son two years after he lost his pregnant daughter Jessie. Jessie, 31, was found dead outside Oglala in 2015 under what the FBI described as suspicious circumstances, according to Journal archives. Her death occurred four months after her ex-boyfriend burnt her home to the ground.
Salomon said Arapahoe is a distant relative of hers and she tried to show him kindness by letting him stay at her family's house and ride their horses. Her family has faced trauma too "but we don't go around axing someone to death," Salomon said.
You need to work on yourself and ask the creator for forgiveness, Salomon told Arapahoe. "You've done something very horrible to us."
Francis, Ray's twin brother, asked Viken to sentence Arapahoe to life in prison. He's responsible for his own actions but "he sits there emotionless," Francis said through tears.