Family members said while Tyrell Bull Bear was a loving father who didn't deserve to die, they still love their relative Lorraine Swallow, who was sentenced Monday to 10 years in prison for killing her nephew.
"I love you sister, but why?" Jennifer Long asked Swallow through tears during the sentencing at state court in Rapid City.
Judge Matt Brown sentenced Swallow, a 33-year-old from Rapid City, to 10 years in prison — the maximum punishment for second-degree manslaughter — with 275 days of time served. Swallow made an Alford plea after a Pennington County jury deadlocked on whether she was guilty of the more serious crime of second-degree murder, which carries a mandatory punishment of life without parole.
In an Alford plea, the defendant is found guilty and admits evidence would likely convince a jury or judge to convict them but is able to maintain their innocence by not admitting to the crime.
Swallow and Bull Bear got into a confrontation early on Dec. 8, 2018, after drinking with other family members, according to testimony from her trial. Witnesses said she ended up grabbing a knife and stabbing him once in the stomach, but Swallow maintains she acted in self-defense and that Bull Bear walked into the knife.
During the sentencing Monday, Long said she loved Swallow, a good person in need of help. But she said she hasn't forgiven her sister, who caused immense pain and confusion for the extended family.
Bull Bear, 28, was a "kindhearted man" idolized by younger relatives he taught to play basketball, Long said. She said his 3-year-old son, Chavez, doesn't understand what happened to his father but knows he's in heaven.
"It hurts the most whenever he asks for his daddy," Long said, telling Swallow that while she will get to see her children once she's out of prison, Chavez will never get to see his father again.
"I love you Lorraine," Bull Bear's older brother, Daniel, said through tears as he promised to look after her children while she was in prison. Swallow looked up at Daniel, mouthing that she loves him, too.
"Nowhere during that night did Mr. Bull Bear deserve to die," said prosecutor Stacy Wickre, who asked Brown to send Swallow to prison, but did not specify for how many years. Picking up the knife and stabbing Bull Bear was "solely her choice" and "that choice has to have consequences," Wickre said.
Angela Colbath, Swallow's defense lawyer, asked Brown to sentence her client to time served and probation so she could regain her sobriety and go back to being a productive member of society.
She asked Brown to consider the "surrounding circumstances," that Swallow's only criminal history is a non-violent misdemeanor and that she has repeatedly been a victim of violence, most recently when her husband knocked her teeth out soon before the stabbing incident.
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Colbath agreed that Bull Bear was a kind and loving role model, but only when he was sober. She said witnesses testified that he became mean and aggressive when he drank, and Swallow acted to protect herself and her children.
Swallow did not speak during the hearing.
Judge Brown took long pauses as he went over the facts of the case and explained his sentencing decision. He called the case "unique" and a "tragedy" due to the victim and defendant being related.
Part of that tragedy, Brown said, is that Swallow has no violent history and has been a victim of "unthinkable assaults."
The stabbing "did not happen in a vacuum" but was fueled by alcohol, Brown said. Swallow deciding to go buy more alcohol after fighting had already occurred was "like adding fuel to the fire."
He also said he doesn't believe Swallow's insistence that Bull Bear "impaled himself," since witnesses said they saw her stab him.
"I don't buy it," Brown said as he looked at Swallow. "Your actions — not a mistake, not an accident, not the victim impaling himself," caused Bull Bear's death, and "I have not heard that acceptance."
Brown said there's an "extremely high likelihood" that Swallow would have been convicted in a second-degree murder trial, and he would have had no choice but to sentence her to life without parole.
"You got a hell of a deal," he said before sentencing her to the maximum punishment for the new charge.
Speaking after the sentencing, Long said she wants her sister to get help and learn not to harm anyone in the future.
"I want everyone to love each other;" life is too short for family members to hate each other, she said.