Agreement reached in wrongful death lawsuit

Staff Reports
5/1/03

ABERDEEN, S.D. - An out-of-court settlement has been reached in a civil lawsuit over the death of Robert Many Horses, 22, an American Indian found dead in a garbage can in Mobridge in June 1999.

Many Horses' foster mother, Lila Martel of Mobridge, was named court-appointed representative of his estate and filed the suit against three people: Layne Gisi and Jody Larson of Mobridge and Joy Hahne of Trail City. Gisi and Larson were 19 years old when Many Horses died. Hahne was 17.

Martel's attorney, Charles Abourezk of Rapid City, said the family planned to ask for $1 million when the case went to trial in May.

Abourezk said all parties had agreed to keep terms of the settlement confidential. He said the settlement states that the three defendants must meet "face to face" with Martel.

"My client was pleased with the outcome of the case," Abourezk said. Martel "feels that the value of Robert's life was recognized by the terms of the settlement, which was the most important thing to her in the case," the attorney said.

In 1999, a circuit court judge dismissed criminal charges against Gisi, Larson and Hahne in connection with Many Horses' death, citing insufficient evidence. An autopsy concluded Many Horses died of alcohol poisoning.

Many Horses' death touched off accusations of racial inequity in the state's justice system. The three defendants and one more person never faced criminal charges for the incident. Many Horse's body was discovered the morning after a night of drinking. He was found upside down in an alley garbage can in Mobridge. Many Horses was a physically challenge person who suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome.

The American Indian population in the state expressed emotions ranging from bewilderment to rage over the fact than none of the four involved were charged in the case.

The FBI and local investigators nor state DCI investigators found enough evidence to satisfy the judge to conduct a trial.

State's Attorney Dan Todd of Walworth County, where the crime was committed said that a few misdemeanors could be proven and then said the state had taken its best shot at prosecuting the case.

(Staff and Associated Press reports.)

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