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A man charged with failing to report a murder in Pine Ridge last month is now accused of being the person who did the killing. 

Benjamin Wendell Smoke was indicted Tuesday at the federal courthouse in Rapid City on a charge of second-degree murder for allegedly strangling Dale Ecoffey Sr., on March 17 or 18. If found guilty, he could be sentenced up to life in prison.

Smoke was also indicted on charges of tampering with evidence — including Smoke's cell phone —and failing to register as a sex offender. He faces up to 20 years for the tampering charge and between five and 30 years for the other. 

He still faces his original charge of misprision of a felony — when someone knows a felony was committed but fails to report it — for not reporting the murder.

Ecoffey's son reported finding him dead in the passenger seat of a vehicle outside his home in Pine Ridge on the morning of March 18, according to an affidavit signed by an FBI agent in relation to Smoke's original charge. "It was immediately determined that Ecoffey had been murdered" since his face and a eye were swollen, bruised and bloody, and the back of his head had cuts and blood, the agent wrote. The doctor who conducted the autopsy found that while Ecoffey had many injuries, including broken throat and rib bones, he died from strangulation.

The agent wrote that he learned that Ecoffey had been with Smoke, Angie Standing Soldier and others at a party on the evening of March 17. After obtaining a search warrant, a Bureau of Indian Affairs agent found blood inside and outside the home and a mop that appeared to have been cleaned.

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The FBI and BIA agent interviewed Smoke who confirmed the group was at the home on March 17, the affidavit says. He said he found Ecoffey laying down of the floor bleeding from his head and helped him into his vehicle. He said while he didn't know how Ecoffey was injured, he assumed it was Standing Soldier since she had hit him (Smoke) earlier that day with a long, skinny blunt object.

Several hours after helping Ecoffey into his car, Smoke said, he and Standing Soldier checked on Ecoffey and realized he had no pulse. He accused Standing Soldier of destroying Ecoffey's phone but Standing Soldier told the agent it was Smoke who smashed it. 

Smoke said he drove Ecoffey to his Pine Ridge home after Standing Soldier asked him to do so. He confirmed he was the person in surveillance footage from a home near Ecoffey's that shows someone exiting his car around 6:30 a.m. March 18. He also admitted to wiping down the steering wheel with a rag.

Standing Soldier later told the FBI agent that she saw Smoke assault Ecoffey that evening. 

Smoke is detained at the Pennington County Jail and does not yet have any court dates scheduled.

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— Contact Arielle Zionts at arielle.zionts@rapidcityjournal.com

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