Family of Chay Little

Mackenzie Bixby, 14, holds a childhood photo of her older brother, Chay Little. Little was stabbed to death earlier in May. 

A man charged in tribal court pleaded not guilty last week in the stabbing death of a Lame Deer man.

Tyson Lonebear, 27, entered his plea on May 25 in Northern Cheyenne Tribal Court. He faces a deliberate homicide charge related to the death of 21-year-old Chay Little, who died of stabbing wounds on May 18.

Tribal officials issued a warrant for Lonebear, and Big Horn County Sheriff's Office officials arrested him in Hardin late on May 18.

“The court will schedule a pretrial hearing within about a month or so," said tribal prosecutor Kelvin Wilson. "And then at that time, the court will give direction to everybody — where we’re going for the trial.”

A trial will happen if Lonebear maintains his plea and demands it. Wilson said that Northern Cheyenne's judicial system has a speedy trial doctrine that provides a six-month window for a trial, and the court holds criminal jury trials every three months.

By the court's schedule, a jury trial could be set for August if Lonebear requests it, Wilson said.

In the meantime, Lonebear is being held in the tribe's adult detention facility on a $5,000 bond. That's the maximum bond the tribe can set under federal law, Wilson said. However, the Northern Cheynne tribal code allows judges to deny a suspect's release on bail or bond.

There is also a maximum sentence statute for tribal courts, which is one year for a serious, Class A felony. 

The U.S. Attorney's Office district in Montana can pick up tribal cases, but Wilson said it's too early to tell whether the office will do that.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office has not responded to an inquiry about a possible referral. Wilson said that he stays in contact with those officials.

“We have conference calls every month. We talk it over," he said.

If the U.S. Attorney's Office issued an indictment during the tribal court process, Wilson could choose to abandon his case and defer to the federal process. Other times, the tribal court process could finish and the federal indictment comes after.

Little was stabbed at 6 a.m. on May 18 at a home next door to his grandparents' house. Friends and family remembered him as a cheerful person and an active member of the mixed martial arts gym, Rez Brawl.

Following Little's death, federal investigators took up the case.

"FBI and (BIA) special agents both worked on it," Wilson said. "And that's what the basis is so far. Of course, there will be more stuff coming in."

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General Assignment Reporter

Reporter for The Billings Gazette.