Federal prosecutors want to use statements a Crow Agency woman made before dying last year after having been beaten and set on fire in the jury trial of a man accused in her murder.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Lori Suek and John Sullivan are seeking to admit as evidence statements Roylynn Rides Horse made to law enforcement agents as “dying declarations.”
Sanchez's defense attorneys are objecting.
The trial of Dimarzio Swade Sanchez, 20, of Busby, on first degree murder charges in the April 17, 2016, attack of Roylynn Rides Horse, is set to begin on Monday in U.S. District Court in Billings.
Rides Horse, 28, died on June 28, 2016, in Salt Lake City from injuries suffered after being beaten into unconsciousness and set on fire.
Rides Horse had third degree burns over 45 percent of her body and severe frostbite on her legs.
Sanchez faces mandatory life in prison if convicted of first degree murder.
Sanchez is the third of three defendants in the case and the only one to go to trial. His brother, Frank James Sanchez, 20, of Busby, and Angelica Jo Whiteman, 24, of Lame Deer, pleaded guilty to charges and are awaiting sentencing.
Prosecutors said in a trial brief that they expect to call 18 witnesses and that the jury will get the case for deliberation by Dec. 7.
The prosecutors also are seeking to use statements Rides Horse made to investigators, saying an exception to a hearsay rule allows for the admission of a deceased person’s out-of-court statements about the “cause of circumstances” of the death in a homicide prosecution if the person “believes death to be imminent.”
To qualify as a dying declaration, the statements must be spoken by a person “without hope of recovery and in the shadow of impending death,” the prosecutors said.
In the Rides Horse case, prosecutors said, it could be “reasonably inferred” from the “nature and extent of the wounds inflicted” that Rides Horse “had a sense of her impending death.”
Statements Rides Horse made to investigators and witnesses fall “within the cause and circumstances” of her death, prosecutors said.
Sanchez’s attorneys, Gillian Gosch and Tony Gallagher, with the Federal Defenders of Montana, are objecting to the prosecution using Rides Horse’s statements.
While Rides Horse “sustained numerous injuries,” the defense attorneys said, she lived for two months beyond the incident and that “recovery was not outside the realm of possibilities.”
Medical testimony does not suggest “no hope existed for Rides Horse’s recovery,” the defense said in court records.
U.S. District Judge Susan Watters, who is hearing the case, had not yet ruled on the issue as of Friday.
In August, Watters ruled that Dimarzio Sanchez was mentally competent to stand trial.
The prosecution alleges that the defendants and Rides Horse were in a vehicle driven by Dimarzio Sanchez when Whiteman began arguing with Rides Horse. Dimarzio Sanchez drove up to Castle Rock Road on the Crow Reservation and stopped.
Whiteman dragged Rides Horse out of the car, continued beating her and tried to strangle her, prosecutors said. At one point, Dimarzio Sanchez showed Whiteman how to strangle Rides Horse by using a bandanna. Rides Horse was then stripped naked and beaten unconscious.
Prosecutors allege Dimarzio Sanchez poured gasoline on Rides Horse and set her on fire. Both brothers, Whiteman and two other passengers then left.
Rides Horse was found about 14 hours later and given emergency treatment.