RAPID CITY, S.D. — A South Dakota man originally charged with first-degree murder after killing a retired Rapid City teacher in June 2017 pleaded down to first-degree manslaughter Tuesday, July 30.
"I know I'm responsible," Andrew Eastman said after pleading guilty to the beating death of 64-year-old Larry Mintzlaff, who worked as a teacher and coach at North Middle School from 1983 to 2013.
Eastman, who faces a maximum penalty of life in prison, could have been sentenced to death if he had been convicted of the murder charge.
The plea deal says the prosecution will ask for a 60-year sentence while the defense will argue that Eastman's mental health is a mitigating factor that should result in a shorter punishment, Judge Jeff Davis said at the state court in Rapid City. The plea deal also dismissed charges of second-degree escape and grand theft.
Eastman told Davis that he fled while serving time as an inmate at the minimum security prison in Rapid City and stole a car, but that he can't remember anything about what happened next. He said he realized he "made a horrible choice" once he sobered up.
Mintzlaff's family members leaned forward in their chairs, listening intensely as Eastman admitted his guilt while one of Eastman's loved ones quietly cried.
Eastman, who was serving time for drug and theft offenses, left his inmate job site at the city landfill June 2, according to police reports. He stole a city-owned pickup and attacked Mintzlaff at his home on Wisconsin Avenue before the retired teacher was found dead on June 6, 2017.
Law enforcement zeroed in on Eastman as a suspect after finding a letter he wrote to Mintzlaff in his home and realized he was in New Mexico by tracing Mintzlaff's stolen cell phone and credit cards, the reports say. A fugitive task force arrested him June 9, 2017, after finding him driving Minztlaff's stolen blue Ford Focus in an Albuquerque parking lot, and police later found a baseball bat and clothing covered in blood in the car.
Eastman is expected to return to court at 9 a.m. on Dec. 10 for the mitigation hearing.