A Kyle man will spend the rest of his life in federal prison after a jury found him guilty of first-degree murder for shooting a man near Sharps Corner on the Pine Ridge Reservation in 2017.
Clarence Yellow Hawk, 30, was sentenced June 2 at the federal court in Rapid City for murdering Chris Janis, court records show.
Janis, a 42-year-old from Vermillion, was an Oglala Lakota tattoo artist and Marines veteran with a wife and two children, according to the website of the former tattoo shop he and his wife operated in Las Vegas.
Federal law restricted Judge Jeffrey Viken to either sentencing Yellow Hawk to death or life in prison. He also sentenced Yellow Hawk to 10 years in prison for firing a weapon while committing a violent crime.
Prosecutors have asked Yellow Hawk — who is appealing his conviction and sentencing — to pay nearly $29,000 in restitution to Janis’ family. Viken will rule at a later date on whether restitution is owed, and if so, how much.
Yellow Hawk, his best friend Scott Benson and Jamie Shoulders met Janis and Janis’ cousin near Sharps Corner on May 27, 2017, a prosecutor and defense lawyer agreed during his trial last spring.
During the meetup, Yellow Hawk gave Shoulders a gun owned by Benson, according to the factual basis document Shoulders signed. Shoulders shot Janis through his car window at least twice. Yellow Hawk then took the gun and shot Janis several more times.
Prosecutor Kathryn Rich argued during the trial that Yellow Hawk shot Janis during a premeditated murder. Defense lawyer Dana Hanna said Yellow Hawk shot Janis to defend Benson after seeing Janis point a gun at Benson, who was sitting in the back of Janis’ car.
Hanna said a gun was found in the back seat which proves Janis was pointing the gun at Benson before being shot. But Rich said Janis was shot seven times before being able to reach his gun in self defense.
The jury believed Rich and her witnesses, which included Benson, Shoulders and Janis’ cousin.
Benson was previously sentenced to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to accessory after the fact for helping Yellow Hawk and Shoulders flee the scene. Shoulders was sentenced to 25 years after pleading guilty to second-degree murder.
Yellow Hawk and Benson both had warrants out of Pennington County for alleged offenses at the time of the shooting, the Rapid City police chief said back in 2017. State, local, and other tribal police forces need permission from the Oglala Sioux Tribe to extradite people from the sovereign Pine Ridge Reservation. It's unclear if this was ever requested.
Rich says Yellow Hawk owes Janis’ family restitution for funeral-related expenses, therapy, travel expenses, lost wages and the value of Janis’ van that was destroyed during the shooting.
— Contact Arielle Zionts at email@example.com.
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