A Wyola woman has pleaded guilty to second degree murder after running over a man on the Crow Reservation in November 2016.
Vernelle Lynn Badbear pleaded guilty to intentionally killing Benteen man Freman Robin Bends, 38, during a change of plea hearing Thursday in U.S. District Court in Billings.
There is no plea agreement in the case. Badbear faces up to life in prison.
Badbear admitted to federal investigators that she hit and drove over Bends with her minivan Nov. 4, 2016, after the two got into an argument over his drinking. They were in a relationship at the time, and Badbear was angry with Bends for drinking alcohol when he was supposed to be watching the children, she told investigators.
Bends left the house and began walking down the road, then Badbear then got into her vehicle and followed him.
A highway road painter found Bends's body eight days later between the frontage road and the railroad tracks near Wyola, along Highway 451, according to court documents.
Big Horn County coroner Terry Bullis said the cause of death is listed as "acute blunt force trauma." The pathologist who examined his body determined that "it would have taken some time for the deceased to die," according to court documents.
Magistrate Judge Timothy Cavan ordered Badbear to be released to the third-party custody of her aunt, as she had been before Thursday's hearing.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Lori Suek said prosecutors would move to detain Badbear once her plea agreement is accepted by Judge Susan Watters.
More than a dozen family members of Bends attended the hearing Thursday. Outside the courtroom, Bends' father, Byron Bends, said the family has been satisfied with the progress of the case.
"It's been a long, enduring test of patience," Byron Bends said of the case. Badbear was indicted in late 2017, more than a year after Freman Bends' body was discovered. "We all agreed that we wanted the justice system to prevail."
No sentencing date has been set.