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Court overturns sex abuse conviction of Eagle Butte man

By Dirk Lammers

The U.S. Court of Appeals on Monday overturned the conviction of an Eagle Butte man sentenced to nearly 11 years in prison for sexual abuse, finding that jury instructions were incomplete.

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Jerry Matthew Chasing Hawk was convicted in 2011 for the August 2009 sexual abuse of an Eagle Butte woman in Fort Thompson.

Chasing Hawk appealed his conviction, arguing that the government did not prove his knowledge of the woman’s incapacity at the time of the assault.

A three-judge panel from the 8th Circuit reversed the district court’s conviction Monday, saying Chasing Hawk requested but was denied jury instructions that would have required jurors to find that he had knowledge of the woman’s incapacity.

“The district court did not include this element in its instructions to the jury,” the judges wrote.

The alleged incident occurred following a night of drinking when Chasing Hawk was in a hotel room with his girlfriend’s daughter. The woman had fallen asleep and awoke to find that she was being assaulted, according to court records.

Chasing Hawk initially denied having any sexual contact with the woman, but later admitted to a consensual encounter after investigators told him they had DNA evidence, court records said.

Chasing Hawk was indicted by a federal grand jury in Pierre in April 2011 and found guilty in October 2011. In January 2012, U.S. District Judge Roberto Lange sentenced Chasing Hawk to 131 months in custody and 5 years of supervised release.

The appeals judges ruled that Chasing Hawk must have had knowledge not only that he was engaging in a sexual act but also that the victim was incapacitated. The district court’s refusal to include the instruction to the jury denied Chasing Hawk a legal defense, the panel ruled.

The case is remanded back to U.S. District Court for further proceedings.