In the late evening hours of Aug. 1, 2016 or the early morning hours of Aug. 2, 2016, 25-year-old Todd Little Bull of Kyle was shot dead in a vehicle on BIA 2 on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
For over five years, the two men who were with him withheld the truth: that they were responsible for the death and Todd himself had asked to be killed as part of a plan to discredit a spiritual leader.
Stetson Eagle Elk, who shot Little Bull in the head and chest, was sentenced last week to 18 years in federal prison followed by three years of supervised release for second-degree murder and aiding and abetting. On Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey Viken in Rapid City sentenced Gary Little Bull to 15 years in federal prison followed by three years of supervised release for second-degree murder. Both accepted plea deals.
“This is one of the most unusual cases I’ve been associated with,” said Stanton Anker, Gary’s defense attorney, at the sentencing. Viken mirrored that sentiment saying "It's puzzling. I don't expect to see these facts again."
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Although Gary did not kill Little Bull, he did know the murder would happen, chose not to stop it and lied to law enforcement, Todd’s family and the community, according to court documents and the government's lawyer.
A factual basis statement — which is signed by the defense and the government in plea deal cases — states that Gary and Eagle Elk viewed Todd as a spiritual leader. The judge referenced sealed letters to the court that described Todd as respectful and active in his community and in ceremonies. A letter from Oglala Sioux Tribe Councilman George Dreamer Jr. stated that Todd was active working with youth on Pine Ridge.
In the late hours of Aug. 1, 2016 and into the early morning hours of Aug. 2, 2016, Todd asked Eagle Elk to come see him at a residence near Kyle.
When Eagle Elk arrived, Todd told him about troubles he was having with his spiritual mentor, someone others considered to also be a spiritual leader. Todd and the other man were “increasingly at odds over the means and methods by which the other was proselytizing the faith.”
“Todd expressed his belief that the other man was not truly a spiritual leader and was deceiving people into believing he was,” the statement reads.
Todd told Eagle Elk of a plan to have himself killed and by doing so cast suspicion on his spiritual mentor, whose fraud would be uncovered during the investigation. Todd believed he would be made stronger as a spiritual force by his death. The document states Todd predicted his own death and documented in writing his beliefs about the man he was at odds with.
During the meeting, Gary arrived and learned about the discussion and agreed to help with the plan.
“Todd convinced Gary another spiritual leader was threatening Todd. Gary thought he was going to protect Todd,” Anker said.
The three were talking in a shed where Todd had a rifle when Todd asked Eagle Elk and Gary to “take him out,” and Eagle Elk and Todd saw three lights on the horizon that they had never seen before.
“Eagle Elk believed the lights to be the Creator guiding him and telling him to go through with Todd’s plan,” the court document states.
The three then left the residence in Eagle Elk’s car. Eagle Elk drove west on BIA 2 towards Sharps Corner. Todd was in the passenger seat and Gary was in the rear passenger seat. As they drove, Eagle Elk pulled the parking brake to try and create skid marks.
The men stopped at a remote location on BIA 2 and waited for a sign from the Creator. Gary observed a white light up the road, and the three men took it as a sign and drove to where the light was, approximately five miles east of BIA 27 between Sharps Corner and Kyle.
After stopping, Eagle Elk and Gary got out of the car and Todd rolled down his window slightly.
“Todd did not want his window down all the way so that gunshot residue would not hit Eagle Elk and thereby incriminate him,” according to the factual basis statement.
Holding the rifle from the shed, Eagle Elk shot Todd once in the head and once in the chest.
“Gary Little Bull stood nearby just a few feet away knowing Eagle Elk was about to shoot Todd consistent with their agreement to help carry out the plan to shoot and kill Todd. Little Bull did nothing to prevent Eagle Elk from pulling the trigger.”
Gary's lawyer said his client didn’t hate Todd. He looked up to him and was honoring his friend’s wishes.
“I know it sounds odd,” Anker said. “That’s what his mindset was … Gary thought what he was doing was right.”
When a passerby arrived, the two men told them to call the police because Todd had been murdered by others. They told police a previously agreed-upon story about how they were boxed in by two trucks on the highway who forced them to stop. Eagle Elk said a man got out of one of the trucks and pointed a rifle through the window, shooting Todd twice.
Gary told officers he was sleeping when he woke up to the car stopping, and Eagle Elk yelled at him to get down before he heard two gunshots. The story caused panic, fear and stress for families and the community, Assistant U.S. Attorney Benjamin Patterson said, adding there are still people in the community who believe someone other than Gary and Eagle Elk are responsible for the murder.
Regina Little Bull, Todd’s mother and Gary’s aunt, addressed the court on Tuesday at Gary’s sentencing. She said multiple times “I don’t know what to think.” She told the court she doesn’t go out anymore other than for necessities and her mental and physical health has suffered.
“I don’t understand why he didn’t tell me what really happened,” she said. “I’m still in disbelief that my son’s gone. He’ll never come back … part of me is gone.”
Gary was arrested at Regina’s home in January 2022.
Viken thanked Regina for addressing the court and told her what she is experiencing is what happens to a family when there’s a murder and the only thing the court can do is deliver justice with sentencing which is “no substitute for having your son.”
"Families went through hell trying to deal with this," Viken told Gary.
Viken said he took into account that Gary wasn’t the one to pull the trigger when deciding the sentence and his lack of a significant criminal history, which consisted of one possession of marijuana charge.
"I completely understand why your family and community were shocked by your involvement," he said.
Gary did not speak at his sentencing.
— Contact Shalom Baer Gee at firstname.lastname@example.org —