A Pine Ridge man is accused by the federal government of "accessory after the fact," a crime that means someone shielded an offender from facing justice. In this case, he's accused of covering up an assault that left a woman with serious head trauma.
What's unusual is that no one has been charged with the assault.
"This case is admittedly unique, as the United States must prove that an assault resulting in serious bodily injury exists in order to establish the defendant’s role as accessory after the fact," Assistant U.S. Attorney Cassandra DeCoste wrote in a court document.
This creates a problematic and unfair circumstance for Weldon Two Bulls, according to his defense lawyer, Jennifer Albertson.
"In this prosecution, the United States has essentially placed the proverbial cart before the horse — seeking to convict Mr. Two Bulls of being an accessory after the fact to an assault the United States has not proven occurred. To remedy this problem, the United States proposes to have a trial within a trial," she wrote.
In addition to the accessory after the fact charge, Two Bulls is accused of making a false statement to a Bureau of Indian Affairs special agent when he allegedly said he was too drunk to remember what happened to Sheena Between Lodges.
Between Lodges was assaulted Nov. 2, 2018, but not hospitalized until Nov. 5, according to court documents. She was found with two black eyes, "extensive" head-to-toe bruising and "as near to death" as possible, DeCoste said Tuesday during her opening statement of the trial at the federal courthouse in Rapid City.
Doctors at the Indian Health Service hospital in Pine Ridge found Between Lodges was having seizures and that her brain was bleeding so they transported her by helicopter to the Rapid City Regional hospital so neurosurgeons could remove part of her skull to drain the blood and let the swelling go down, DeCoste said. Doctors weren't sure if she would ever wake up.
Between Lodges was left unconscious in Pine Ridge for about three days before someone called for help, her family told Indianz.com at the time. The family said the beating resulted in a traumatic brain injury and initially left her in a coma before she began to recover.
DeCoste told the jury that Two Bulls told Elgin Young Bear, Between Lodges' brother, and Wylene Two Lance, Young Bear's wife, that Gilbert Lakota and Lily Larvie beat up Between Lodges. DeCoste also plans to say that Two Bulls said he had to stop Lakota and Larvie from hurting Between Lodges, court documents say.
Lakota, Between Lodges' husband, and Larvie, Lakota's sister, have not been charged in the case but Lakota is in the Oglala Sioux Tribe's jail on unrelated charges, documents say.
Young Bear and Two Lance reported Two Bulls to the police, saying he knows what happened to Between Lodges, but Two Bulls lied and helped cover up the crime when he told law enforcement that he couldn't remember what happened to Between Lodges, DeCoste told the jury. She said she's asking the jury to hold Two Bulls responsible, but not "yet" Lakota and Larvie, she told the jury.
It's not clear if Between Lodges was assaulted, and if so, when and by whom, Albertson said during her opening statement. She said Between Lodges was "drunk all the time" and fell down often.
But Albertson said DeCoste will ask the jury to find that Between Lodges was assaulted by Lakota and Larvie, and she said the prosecution needs a guilty verdict from Two Bulls so they can use him to go after the pair.
Albertson said when Two Bulls spoke with Young Bear and Two Lance, he simply said that he heard about Between Lodges getting beat up, not that he was there and not that he had to break up a fight. She said this entire case rests upon people saying things they heard from others and asked the jury to distinguish that kind of testimony from first-hand accounts.
She said Two Bulls voluntarily spoke with law enforcement twice and is innocent.
A special agent with the Bureau of Indian Affairs is expected to testify that Lakota told agents that Between Lodges was injured in early November after falling off a step after a night of drinking, according to a court document. Two people plan to testify that that night of drinking happened in October, and Between Lodges didn't fall. When the agent confronted Lakota about the discrepancy between what he and the two other people said, he allegedly said he was too drunk to remember what happened.
Bruce Tizes, an emergency doctor at the Pine Ridge IHS, and Rod Samuelson, a neurosurgeon at Regional, treated Between Lodges and are expected to testify about her injuries and how they are consistent with someone who was beat with a blunt object. Samuelson will also say that her neck injuries are consistent with someone who was strangled.
Mark Monasky, a neurosurgeon from Bismarck, N.D., who reviewed Between Lodges' medical records, will explain when bruises can appear from liver disease, injuries that are inconsistent with falls, and that a ground-level fall could cause brain bleeding.
Lakota and Larvie are not expected to testify, according to court records. It's unclear if Albertson is calling any witnesses.