Court hears arguments in Winner rape caseMan seeks new trial or lighter sentence from SD justices for 2000 crime.
By: Chris Mueller, The Daily Republic
VERMILLION — The attorney for a Winner man convicted of raping and kidnapping a young girl told the South Dakota Supreme Court on Tuesday that evidence of an uncharged sexual assault should not have been admitted at trial.
Paul Jensen, attorney for Gabriel Darryn Medicine Eagle Jr., and Assistant Attorney General Kirsten Jasper, the prosecutor, presented oral arguments on the case Tuesday morning to the state Supreme Court, which convened at the University of South Dakota School of Law in Vermillion. Medicine Eagle is seeking a new trial or, failing that, a lighter sentence.
In addition to the uncharged sexual assault evidence that Jensen said should not have been shown to the jury, Jensen claimed Medicine Eagle’s constitutional rights were violated when a DNA expert was allowed to testify about the results of DNA tests done mostly by other analysts who didn’t testify. Jasper argued against all of Jensen’s claims.
Medicine Eagle was found guilty by a jury Oct. 18, 2011, of kidnapping, second-degree rape, third-degree rape and sexual contact with a child younger than 16.
He was then found guilty by another jury Jan. 27, 2012, of being a habitual offender, which increased the maximum punishment he could receive.
Medicine Eagle was sentenced to life in prison for kidnapping, 25 years in prison for second-degree rape and 15 years in prison for sexual contact.
According to a summary of the case provided by the state Supreme Court, the charges stem from an incident that occurred Sept. 23, 2000, when the victim, a 15-yearold girl, was walking home. 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 then raped her.
In 2001, Medicine Eagle was indicted for the crime, but those charges were later dismissed after DNA testing failed to implicate Medicine Eagle and instead found DNA from another man.
But 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.
Prior to the trial, the state was given permission to present evidence of a similar alleged sexual assault by Medicine Eagle on a 13-year-old victim on Jan. 20, 2003. That victim was also allegedly driven to rural Winner by Medicine Eagle and sexually assaulted, the case summary says.
According to state statute, such evidence can only be introduced as “proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident,” and not to prove a person’s character.
Jensen argued the evidence should not have been presented, because the incident occurred three years after the incident for which Medicine Eagle was charged.
“It’s being offered as disguised evidence that goes to character,” Jensen said, “which the statute and the case law very clearly says you can’t do.”
If such evidence is admitted, jurors must be instructed that “they have to make a finding that the scheme existed at the time of the charged incident,” Jensen said.
“I just believe the juries aren’t getting the guidance they need,” he said.
Jasper, meanwhile, said the judge was correct in admitting the evidence because it showed Medicine Eagle had a common plan or scheme.
“Why should the first victim be punished simply because they’re the first?” she said.
At Medicine Eagle’s trial, the jury heard testimony from Barbara Leal, a forensic DNA analyst. Jensen claims Medicine Eagle’s constitutional rights were violated when Leal testified about several conclusions from non-testifying DNA analysts, which he said could be “hearsay evidence from the accusers.”
As numerous people can be involved in the DNA testing process, the Justices asked who exactly should be required to testify.
“I’m certainly not going to tell the court that you need to bring in everyone,” Jensen said. “ ... But whenever someone becomes an accuser of the defendant, they should be made to testify.”
Jasper said those DNA analysts who did not testify were only involved in the preliminary steps of the process.
“No conclusions are drawn from those processes in this case,” she said.
Jensen also claims the trial court had no jurisdiction over the habitual offender proceedings.
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, Jensen said, which means no charging document existed at Medicine Eagle’s habitual offender trial.
“It’s in essence trying to revive something that’s gone,” he said.
Medicine Eagle should be re-sentenced without the habitual offender information, Jensen said.
Jasper claimed the trial court did have jurisdiction because Medicine Eagle was not unfairly hurt by the state’s actions.
“When you look at whether or not (Medicine Eagle’s) rights were prejudiced, they’re not,” she said. “He was fully aware throughout this entire process.”
The Supreme Court will issue a decision at a later date.