A North Dakota man apologized for fatally stabbing his friend with a Samurai-style sword last year in Lame Deer as a federal judge in Billings sentenced him to prison on Thursday.

U.S. District Judge Susan Watters ordered Tyson Jo Lonebear, 28, of Bismarck, to spend six years in prison for his guilty plea to voluntary manslaughter. He faced a guideline range of 63 months to 78 months.

Lonebear initially was charged with second degree murder in the May 18, 2016, death of Chay Little, 21. As part of a plea agreement, Lonebear pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter, which is killing recklessly, with extreme disregard for human life.

Lonebear apologized in a brief statement.

Calling the killing tragic, Watters said the fighting between Lonebear and Little was fueled by substance abuse by both men. Little may have assaulted Lonebear, but stabbing him was unjustified, she said.

Watters also said Lonebear had used methamphetamine heavily that night. A history of drug abuse and criminal behavior “led to this day,” she added.

Assistant Federal Defender Steve Babcock recommended a low-end guideline term. “What happened was completely senseless. This was the death of his lifelong friend,” he said. Lonebear did not intend to kill Little, he added.

Lonebear, Babcock said, has a severe substance abuse problem and an extensive tribal criminal history of mostly alcohol-related offenses. Lonebear started using meth when he was 16 and has been injecting the drug for the past 10 years, he said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John Sullivan sought a high-end sentence saying Lonebear used a three-foot-long imitation samurai sword to stab Little once in the chest. Little was taken to a hospital, where he died.

The stabbing occurred after Little and Lonebear’s mother got into a physical fight at about 3 a.m. at Lonebear’s mother’s residence in Lame Deer. Lonebear joined the fight and hit Little with a bar or stick as Little was attempting to leave, Sullivan said in court records.

After Little left, Lonebear also left, went to residences around Lame Deer and used meth multiple times, Sullivan said. When Lonebear learned that Little had returned to Lame Deer and was at Lonebear’s grandmother’s house, he got a ride to his grandmother’s house.

Little approached the minivan, occupied by Lonebear, and opened the door. Little punched Lonebear several times before Lonebear unsheathed the sword and stabbed Little, Sullivan said.

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Federal Court, Yellowtone County Reporter

Federal court and county reporter for The Billings Gazette.