Saying the “day of reckoning” had arrived, a federal judge on Thursday ordered a Crow Agency man with a history of alcohol abuse to spend more than 33 years in prison for killing four people while driving drunk on the Crow Reservation in 2011.
Senior U.S. District Judge Sam Haddon sentenced Bruce Wayne Eagleman Jr., 26, to the high end of the guideline range of 33 years and nine months. The low end of the range was 27 years.
There is no parole in the federal system. With credit for good behavior, inmates serve about 85 percent of their sentences.
“You have strung out this case for literally years” to avoid taking responsibility, Haddon told Eagleman during a three-hour hearing in Billings. “Today the day of reckoning … has now arrived.”
He added, “The harm you have visited on families of people that you killed is, frankly, difficult to imagine.”
“I messed up bad,” Eagleman told the judge. “I caused the death of four people. I’m not trying to get out of anything. I know what I did and I’m sorry for it.”
Eagleman pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree murder, which is killing with malice aforethought, meaning recklessly and with extreme disregard for human life. The judge accepted a plea agreement and dismissed seven other counts.
Eagleman admitted to driving drunk in the wrong lane on Dec. 29, 2011, on East Frontage Road near Dunmore when he collided head-on with a car driven by Marva Knows His Gun, 41, of Hardin.
The crash killed Knows His Gun and her two passengers: her son, Frankie Knows His Gun Jr., 17, and his girlfriend, Corma Jefferson Fire Bear, 19, of Crow Agency.
Also killed was Eagleman’s passenger, Vincent Fighter-Davis, 27, of Crow Agency.
Eagleman listened with his head bowed and eyes downcast as nine family members and friends of the four victims told the judge of the grief, pain and loss they’ve suffered.
Richard McCormick, the cousin of Frankie Knows His Gun, spoke on behalf of the family and showed the judge a picture of Frankie. He asked for justice, saying it won’t bring back their loved ones, it will bring “a little bit of closure for us.”
The case took several twists before eventually reaching Thursday’s sentencing.
Although Eagleman pleaded guilty, the judge gave him no credit or reduced sentence for accepting responsibility. Haddon noted that Eagleman had withdrawn his first guilty plea, pleaded guilty a second time and, then on Thursday, tried to withdraw his plea for the second time.
Haddon ruled after hearing from both the defense and prosecution that there was no reason or basis to allow Eagleman to withdraw his plea for a second time. Eagleman was “lucid” and not confused about the proceedings when he pleaded guilty before him in July, the judge said.
To allow him to withdraw his plea again, Haddon said, would make “a sham” of the process.
Eagleman’s last-minute attempt to withdraw his plea and go to trial ultimately cost him more time in prison.
By not giving Eagleman credit for accepting responsibility, the initial guideline range increased from about 19 years to 24 years to a new range of 27 years to more than 33 years.
Haddon said the maximum term of life would be warranted but he imposed the top end of the guideline range, as recommended by U.S. Attorney Jessica Betley.
He also ordered restitution to the victims’ families in an amount to be determined later.
Betley said Eagleman “drank a horrendous amount of alcohol” before driving “straight into the oncoming vehicle and killing the four victims.” Eagleman’s blood alcohol concentration after the crash was .257 percent. The state’s legal limit is 0.08.
At the time of the crash, Eagleman was participating in the 24/7 sobriety program in Big Horn County after having been arrested for disorderly conduct and other charges.
He pleaded guilty to the disorderly conduct charge, admitting to drinking a gallon of gin on the day of his arrest.
Eagleman had a previous DUI conviction in 2008 and has never had a valid driver’s license.
Defense attorney Vern Woodward asked for a 20-year sentence, saying that was more than adequate punishment.
“Bruce Eagleman, when sober, is a nice guy. When drinking, he’s probably the dumbest SOB you’d ever want to meet,” he said.
Eagleman has a serious alcohol problem, having consumed alcohol as a kindergartner, Woodward said. He grew up with poor parenting, was abused and has psychological problems, he said.