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Joseph Dowty - mug shot

Dowty

A Rapid City man who pleaded guilty to killing his friend in an alcohol-fueled fistfight this winter has been sentenced to 10 years in prison, with parole possible after 4 years.

Family members and a friend of Joseph Dowty, fighting back tears, urged 7th Circuit Court Judge Matt Brown in a courtroom on the third floor of Pennington County Courthouse during Wednesday morning's sentencing hearing to not impose the maximum 10-year sentence for second-degree manslaughter in the Jan. 26 killing of Nathaniel Ten Fingers.

Rapid City police found Ten Fingers lying on the ground behind an East Adams Street apartment around 1:20 a.m., his face covered in blood. Three days before the victim's 28th birthday, he was pronounced dead.

"It was a brother killing another brother," said the defendant's father, James Dowty. Two seats away, his son, handcuffed, wiped his reddening eyes.

Earlier that day, Dowty said, his son and Ten Fingers had rekindled a friendship. 

"No one knows what went so wrong that night," said the defendant's aunt, Tammy Dowty. 

Judge Brown, noting alcohol was "fuel to the fire" of Dowty's anger and violence issues, documented in run-ins with the juvenile court system, said his sentence was "pittance" to what Ten Fingers and his family lost.

"You will have a chance to see your sons again," Judge Brown said, before sentencing, addressing Dowty. "Nathaniel doesn't."

The hearing opened with Ten Fingers' aunt, Frenchee Tobacco, addressing her nephew's killer and making an emotional appeal to Judge Brown to exceed the state maximum penalty for second-degree manslaughter and keep Dowty imprisoned for life.

"I hope you realize the hurt you put on this family," said Tobacco, pausing to compose herself. 

The 27-year-old Dowty had a checkered past with the juvenile detention system, but the manslaughter plea represented his first felony as an adult. Judge Brown called this "lucky," given the defendant's history of violence and problems with alcohol. He noted since his January arrest, Dowty has been charged with a simple assault that occurred while incarcerated in the Pennington County Jail earlier this year "over a bag of popcorn." 

"I'm very worried you're going to be back here again," the judge told Dowty.

Dowty's aunt spoke about Dowty visiting her own son, left handicapped by a drunk driver and living in Hot Springs.

"Be merciful," Tammy told Judge Brown, emphasizing Dowty's remorse. "He doesn't deserve a life sentence. He's got that already."

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Dowty's father mentioned his son's rough upbringing on Pine Ridge.

"I should've never moved down to Pine Ridge," Dowty said, saying his son, who is part-Lakota, fell victim to racism as a "half-breed."

James also confirmed he is in poor health and is now taking care of Dowty's two sons.

"He (James) takes those boys down to the jail every night at 6 p.m. to see where their father is," said Tammy.

Judge Brown said the sentencing decision was among the most uniquely difficult in his career. "This was a tragic, unnecessary, avoidable crime."

As Dowty was escorted from the court, he turned to wave to family members and friends. 

"I think the judge listened to us," Tammy told family members outside the courtroom. 

Dowty and his attorney, Shiloh MacNally, have 30 days to appeal the ruling.

Contact Christopher Vondracek at Christopher.Vondracek@rapidcityjournal.com.

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