A Busby man admitted on Tuesday that he lied about not being at the scene of an attack and burning of a Crow Agency woman who later died and that he had the victim’s jeans but didn’t give the evidence to law enforcement.
During a hearing in U.S. District Court in Billings, Frank James Sanchez, 19, pleaded guilty to charges in the murder last year of Roylynn Rides Horse, 28.
Rides Horse died on June 28, 2016, in a Salt Lake City hospital where she had been transported for treatment of third-degree burns over 45 percent of her body. She also suffered severe frostbite to her legs.
Sanchez is the first of three defendants in the case to plead guilty.
Prosecutors accused Sanchez and two others of beating Rides Horse into unconsciousness and then dousing her with gasoline and lighting her on fire.
In a plea deal reached with prosecutors, Sanchez pleaded guilty to failing to report a felony and to being an accessory after the fact. An initial charge of first-degree murder is to be dismissed at sentencing if the judge accepts the agreement.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Lori Suek said there was no sentencing agreement and that the government may seek consecutive maximum terms on both crimes. There is an “18-year sentence at play here,” she said.
Frank Sanchez faces a maximum 15 years in prison and a $150,000 fine on the accessory crime and three years and a $250,000 fine for not reporting a felony. First degree murder carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
U.S. District Judge Susan Watters set sentencing for July 6. Frank Sanchez remains in custody.
Co-defendants Dimarzio Swade Sanchez, 19, of Busby, and Angelica Jo Whiteman, 24, of Billings, are awaiting a May 22 trial on first-degree murder charges.
“I had no idea what was going to happen,” Frank Sanchez said, telling the judge that his brother, Dimarzio Sanchez, and Whiteman killed Rides Horse.
Frank Sanchez admitted he lied when he initially told investigators that he wasn’t at the scene but that he “told the truth” about two weeks later in another interview.
He also said that Dimarzio Sanchez threw Rides Horse’s jeans at him when dropping him off later. “He told me to get rid of them,” he said.
Frank Sanchez told the judge he dropped out of high school as a freshman and that his only job was working at the sawmill in Ashland for about two weeks prior to the crime. Sanchez said he was single and had a 4-month-old daughter.
In addition, the defendant said he has twice been to treatment for alcohol use but got kicked out of both programs for fighting.
Prosecutor Lori Suek said the attack happened on April 17 after Rides Horse asked Whiteman for a ride home to Crow Agency from the Kirby Saloon, where the victim and her common-law husband had argued.
The women, along with Frank Sanchez and others, left in a car driven by Dimarzio Sanchez. Along the way, Whiteman began arguing with Rides Horse and started beating her, Suek said.
Dimarzio Sanchez drove to Castle Rock Road off of U.S. Highway 212, on the Crow Reservation, where he stopped. Whiteman dragged the victim out of the car and continued to beat and strangle her, the prosecutor said.
Dimarzio Sanchez also showed Whiteman how to strangle the victim using a bandana, Suek said.
Rides Horse was beaten unconscious and stripped naked, Suek said. Dimarzio Sanchez instructed Frank Sanchez to get a gas can from the trunk of the car, doused the victim with gasoline and set her on fire, she said.
Rides Horse remained in the field for 14 hours before being discovered and given emergency medical treatment.
Law enforcement learned that Frank Sanchez witnessed the crime but didn’t report it, Suek said. The defendant also gave a false alibi and denied being at the scene during an April 19 interview with investigators, she said. Frank Sanchez gave a truthful statement two weeks later.
In addition, Frank Sanchez had Rides Horse’s jeans, which Dimarzio Sanchez had given him, but did not give them to law enforcement, Suek said. Investigators eventually retrieved the jeans from Frank Sanchez’s girlfriend.