THERMOPOLIS — A judge sentenced a man to life in prison for abusing his 22-month-old daughter until she died with broken bones, severe burns, cuts and bruises over much of her body.
Andrew Yellowbear, 31, remained defiant before District Judge David Park handed down the sentence Thursday. "I believe the person who committed these atrocities confessed to them on July 2, 2004," Yellowbear said.
That was the day that Marcela Hope Yellowbear died at a Riverton hospital. The girl's mother, Macalia Blackburn, initially told investigators that she alone was responsible for the abuse. Blackburn later recanted and now awaits sentencing for her plea to the charge of being an accessory to second-degree murder.
A jury on April 1 found Yellowbear guilty of first-degree murder and recommended life in prison without the possibility of parole. Jurors declined to recommend the death sentence.
In handing down the life sentence, Park said using the word "torture" to describe the Marcela's treatment was "wholly inadequate."
"I believe any person who assisted in the abuse and did nothing is as guilty as the person who inflicted the injuries," he said.
Macalia Blackburn's grandmother and other family members who heard Yellowbear expressed anger after leaving the courtroom. "He still thinks he's innocent," Ruby Blackburn said.
The family was also outraged that Yellowbear wore a shirt with blue, orange and yellow ribbons that is significant to the Northern Arapaho tribe. "It's a sign of honor," said Lupe Blackburn, Macalia Blackburn's aunt. "It's not for killing a child."
Park on Thursday denied a motion to delay the sentencing while a federal judge considers a motion challenging the state's jurisdiction in the case. Yellowbear claims that because Riverton is within the Wind River Indian Reservation's boundaries, the federal government should have had jurisdiction.
Macalia Blackburn is scheduled to be sentenced in mid-July.