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Burning death trial: Suspect gave agents, psychologists different versions of what happened

Burning death trial: Suspect gave agents, psychologists different versions of what happened

From the A man was found guilty of burning a woman to death. See our full coverage of his case here series

Although he didn’t testify at his murder trial on Wednesday, Busby resident Dimarzio Swade Sanchez earlier gave conflicting versions of what happened to a Crow Agency woman who died after being strangled, set on fire and abandoned in a field last year.

Sanchez, 20, told federal agents in a recorded interview three days after the April 17, 2016, attack that he had driven the victim, Roylynn Rides Horse, to Dunmore, on the Crow Reservation, where he dropped her off outside a trailer home.

Sanchez also told Theresa Hastings, a neuropsychologist hired by the defense to evaluate him, that he was a passive participant who watched events unfold and that he was afraid.

Sanchez is charged with first degree murder in Rides Horse’s death and faces mandatory life if convicted.

Federal prosecutors rested their case on Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Billings. The defense called Hastings as its only witness before also resting its case.

Prosecutors allege Sanchez, who was driving the car that night, killed Rides Horse by dousing her with gasoline and lighting her on fire along Castle Rock Road, off of U.S. Highway 212 on the Crow Reservation. Fourteen hours later, a passerby found Rides Horse, who was naked, frostbitten and severely burned.

Rides Horse, 28, suffered third-degree burns over 45 percent of her body and died 72 days later in a Salt Lake City hospital.

The defense has argued that co-defendants have lied numerous times to investigators and reached plea deals to save themselves. In addition, Sanchez has fetal alcohol syndrome, functions at a grade-school level and was a follower, not a leader, his attorneys argued.

Audio recording

Testimony on Wednesday included the prosecution playing for the jury an audio recording of an interview Sanchez had with two Bureau of Indian Affairs agents on April 20, 2016.

Sanchez and five others, including two co-defendants convicted in the case, had encountered Rides Horse that night in the Kirby Saloon and had offered to give her a ride home to Crow Agency, the prosecution said. The group, however, ended up on Castle Rock Road where the attack occurred.

In the audio interview the BIA agents, Sanchez said he dropped off others in the group before he, Whiteman and Rides Horse went to Dunmore. There he dropped off Rides Horse outside a trailer, he told the agents.

Hastings testified for the defense about Sanchez’s mental status, while the prosecution called its own clinical psychologist as a rebuttal witness.

Sanchez, Hastings testified, told her that Angelica Whiteman, a co-defendant, instructed him to pull onto a dirt road where everyone except him initially got out. He eventually got out but stayed near the car and watched.

Hastings said Sanchez told her three of the girls got into a fight and that Whiteman returned to the car and said she had killed her. He said Whiteman ordered another male to get the gas can. Someone else lit Rides Horse on fire, he told Hastings.

Those two versions also differ from the testimony of other witnesses, who said Sanchez strangled Rides Horse with a bandanna and told his brother and co-defendant, Frank Sanchez, to get the gas can from the trunk of the car and to give it to him.

Whiteman, 24, of Billings, pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting first degree murder. Frank Sanchez, 20, of Busby, pleaded guilty to not reporting a felony and to being an accessory after the fact. Both reached plea deals with prosecutors, testified for the prosecution and are awaiting sentencing.

Mental condition

The psychologists also gave differing views of Dimarzio Sanchez’s mental condition.

In testifying for the defense, Hastings, a private practice psychologist in Rapid City, South Dakota, described a variety of tests she gave Dimarzio Sanchez and discussed her conclusions.

In general, Hastings said Dimarzio Sanchez was somewhere on the fetal-alcohol spectrum, has problems with reading and communications, was passive, was a follower and is easily led and influenced by others.

Hastings said she thought Dimarzio Sanchez followed directions and tried hard in the testing and did not deliberately try to do poorly to skew the results.

The prosecution's rebuttal witness, Tiffany Smith, a clinical psychologist with the federal Bureau of Prisons in Los Angeles, disagreed with Hastings.

Smith, who had also tested and evaluated Dimarzio Sanchez, said she did not think he was “a follower” and that while his initial responses were brief, he answered questions appropriately with follow-up questions. Smith also said she thought he intentionally tried to appear worse than he was.

The case is expected to go to the jury on Thursday.


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Federal Court, Yellowtone County Reporter

Federal court and county reporter for The Billings Gazette.

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