Walking by Faith

Trahnea Phelan holds a sign as people gather for a "Walking by Faith" march along Highway 212 to Crow Agency in support of Roylynn Rides Horse in June.

CASEY PAGE, Gazette Staff

A Busby man and a Lame Deer woman suspected of beating and setting on fire a Crow Agency woman in an April 17 attack that has drawn criticism of law enforcement appeared on criminal charges in federal court Wednesday.

Dimarzio Swade Sanchez, 18, and Angelica Jo Whiteman, 23, each are charged with assault with intent to commit murder and aiding and abetting.

Both Sanchez and Whiteman waived a preliminary hearing during an appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Carolyn Ostby in Billings. The U.S. Attorney's Office filed a criminal complaint June 20.

The case will be presented to a grand jury for indictment.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Lori Suek asked that Sanchez and Whiteman remain in custody.

Ostby ordered the pair to remain in jail pending detention hearing requests.

Ostby also appointed Assistant Federal Defender Gillian Gosch to represent Sanchez and Billings attorney Vern Woodward to represent Whiteman.

Woodward and Assistant Federal Defender David Merchant, who represented Sanchez during the hearing, said Sanchez and Whiteman had no jobs or income or bills and lived with their mothers.

Woodward and Merchant declined to comment on the case.

Although the victim is identified in court records by the initials R.R., family members have previously identified the woman as Roylynn Rides Horse, 28, daughter of Ernestine Pretty Weasel and Roy Rides Horse and stepdaughter of Jerry Pretty Weasel.

About a dozen relatives attended the brief court appearances on Wednesday afternoon.

Roylynn Rides Horse is being treated for injuries at the University of Utah Burn Center in Salt Lake City.

The FBI said in charging records that the victim suffered third degree burns over 45 percent of her body and severe frostbite on her legs.

Sanchez, Whiteman and four others left Rides Horse in a field where she was beaten, strangled and burned and where she remained for 14 hours until she was discovered and given emergency medical treatment, court records said.

Until Wednesday’s charges, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, FBI and Bureau of Indian Affairs had released little information on the attack, drawing criticism from tribal members and leaders and state legislators.

The BIA referred all press inquiries to the FBI. The FBI said it could not release any information due to “a strict set of rules governing the disclosure of information at various phases of a criminal investigation.” The agency also denied pressuring families to stay silent about crimes.

On June 16, about 100 Crow Tribal members marched at Crow Agency to raise awareness about the attack.

Charging documents said the assault happened near Castle Rock Road, about a third of a mile north of Highway 212 between Crow Agency and Busby on the Crow Reservation.

Rides Horse was at the Kirby Saloon in Kirby with her boyfriend when, witnesses told investigators, the couple got into an argument, court records said. Rides Horse asked Whiteman for a ride home to Crow Agency.

Rides Horse and Whiteman got into a car driven by Sanchez. There were four other people, identified as F.S., L.S., J.T. and S.F., also in the vehicle.

Information about what happened next came from interviews with F.S., J.T. and S.F., court records said.

During the drive, Whiteman and Rides Horse began to argue. Whiteman, who was in the front passenger seat, jumped into the back seat and began beating Rides Horse.

Whiteman then told Sanchez to turn the vehicle around so she could beat Rides Horse, court records said.

Sanchez turned the car around and drove to Castle Rock Road, where they stopped. Whiteman dragged Rides Horse from the car and attempted to strangle her to death, court records said. Rides Horse lost consciousness.

Whiteman got back into the car and started crying, believing she had killed Rides Horse. 

Sanchez told Whiteman that Rides Horse was still alive and took her back to where Rides Horse was still lying unconscious in a field.

"Sanchez made the statement, 'I'm only going to show you this once,' referring to showing Whiteman how to strangle someone to death, and then Sanchez strangled R.R. with a bandana," court records said.

Sanchez then ordered F.S. to get a gas can from the trunk. F.S. complied and gave the can to Sanchez, court records said.

Rides Horse was then doused with gasoline and set on fire.

Sanchez and Whiteman were the only two people near Rides Horse when she was doused with gasoline and set on fire, court records said.

The witnesses "could not or would not tell investigators who doused R.R. with gasoline and who set R.R. on fire, but it was either Sanchez or Whiteman or both," court records said.

Sanchez, Whiteman and the four other people then left the area.

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Federal Court, Yellowtone County Reporter

Federal court and county reporter for The Billings Gazette.