PLANKINTON — A Chamberlain man pleaded guilty but mentally ill to first-degree manslaughter Wednesday afternoon for the 2018 death of another man.
Nicholas Yellow Lodge was questioned Wednesday by Judge Patrick Smith about the events of June 3, 2018. Yellow Lodge indicated for the first time since his arrest that he had hit David Hart in the head with a bottle when he feared that Hart was going to sexually assault him.
When asked if he had a clear memory of hitting Hart with a bottle, Yellow Lodge took a long pause before responding that he did not. He then relayed the events he did remember, which included him drinking with Hart and Hart trying to pull down his pants.
"(Hart) tried to get close to me, so I jumped up and told him 'no' about two times," he said.
Yellow Lodge then said he remembered Hart grabbing something and acting as if he were going to hit him, at which point Yellow Lodge grabbed the bottle.
Hart’s body was later found in his Chamberlain apartment. According to court documents, an autopsy showed that Hart had died as a result of multiple blunt force injuries to his head and torso.
Yellow Lodge reportedly told law enforcement the day Hart’s body was found that he and Hart had been arguing the previous night and that he had hit Hart in the head with a large glass liquor bottle multiple times, leaving Hart unresponsive in his apartment. No mention of Yellow Lodge potentially acting in fear of sexual assault was mentioned in court or in publicly available documents prior to Wednesday.
Though Yellow Lodge's case is filed in Brule County, Yellow Lodge has been housed in the Winner City Jail, and hearings in his case have been held at the Aurora County Courthouse, which was determined to be a somewhat centralized location for the parties involved.
Wednesday's hearing had been set as the time to address multiple motions in the case, for which a trial date had not been set. Counsel requested additional time to file and respond to motions on July 17, and argument on the motions was postponed for a month.
On Aug. 28, the date the hearing was moved to, Smith, Brule County State's Attorney Michael Moore and both of Yellow Lodge's attorneys appeared at the Aurora County Courthouse for the rescheduled hearing, which was again postponed to Wednesday when it was discovered that no one had transported Yellow Lodge from Winner to Plankinton for the hearing.
Yellow Lodge was initially charged with first- and second-degree murder and first-degree robbery. Those charges were dismissed when he was indicted on the first-degree manslaughter charge.
First-degree manslaughter is a Class C felony punishable by up to life in prison. As part of a plea agreement, the state has agreed to argue for a sentence of no more than 30 years, though Smith could impose a longer sentence.
The specific type of first-degree manslaughter to which Yellow Lodge pleaded guilty but mentally ill stipulates that he killed Hart unnecessarily while or after resisting Hart's attempt to commit a crime.
As a condition of a guilty but mentally ill plea, Yellow Lodge's mental illness needs would have to be addressed by the state before Yellow Lodge begins serving any penitentiary time that might be imposed at sentencing.
Smith ordered a presentence investigation. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Dec. 5 and will be held in Brule County.