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Winner rapist will be resentenced under lighter guidelines

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news Mitchell, 57301
The Daily Republic
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Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

WINNER -- A Winner man convicted of raping and kidnapping a young girl will be resentenced under lighter guidelines due to a decision Wednesday by the South Dakota Supreme Court.

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Gabriel Darryn Medicine Eagle Jr. was sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty of kidnapping, second-degree rape and illegal sexual contact by a jury in October 2011. He was also found guilty by another jury in January 2012 of being a habitual offender, which increased the maximum punishment he could receive for his crimes.

During oral arguments, which were presented in March at the University of South Dakota School of Law in Vermillion, Medicine Eagle's attorney, Paul Jensen, argued the trial court had no jurisdiction over the habitual offender proceedings. The court ruled in favor of Jensen's argument.

Prior to Medicine Eagle's habitual offender trial, the state first filed an information -- a court document charging Medicine Eagle with being a habitual offender -- then filed an amended version of that same document. The state later dismissed its amended information and sought to proceed on the original information.

When the amended information was filed, the original was essentially nullified, which means no charging document existed at Medicine Eagle's habitual offender trial, the decision says.

Medicine Eagle must therefore be resentenced without the habitual offender information, the decision says.

Without the habitual offender information, Medicine Eagle faces a maximum sentence of life in prison for kidnapping, but could receive a lesser sentence. At his original sentencing hearing, Medicine Eagle was given a mandatory life sentence for kidnapping because he was treated as a habitual offender.

A new sentencing date has not yet been set, according to the Tripp County Clerk of Court's Office.

The case stems from an incident that occurred Sept. 23, 2000, when the victim, a 15-year-old girl, was walking home, according to a summary of the case in the decision. Medicine Eagle approached the girl in his van and offered her a ride.

Instead of driving the girl home, Medicine Eagle took her to an empty field outside Winner, the summary says. When the girl tried to run away, Medicine Eagle caught her and dragged her back to the van by her hair, forced her into the van and raped her.

In 2001, Medicine Eagle was indicted for the crime, but the charges were later dismissed after DNA testing failed to implicate Medicine Eagle and instead found DNA from another man.

The case was reopened in 2008 after law enforcement learned the victim had been sexually active with her teenage boyfriend earlier on the day of the rape. A new test found the presence of Medicine Eagle's DNA, and he was indicted again on Dec. 3, 2009.

Justice Steven Zinter dissented. Zinter argued that the state's intent to dismiss the amended habitual offender information was clear to Medicine Eagle before the trial, and yet he made no objections at the time.

"The majority today would reward Medicine Eagle for his sandbagging in the assertion of this claimed defense or objection," Zinter wrote in the decision. "This should not occur under rules specifically designed to prevent such practices."

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