Tenth Circuit Upholds District Court’s Plea Rejection

Carol Berry
December 08, 2012


On December 5, the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a U.S. District Court for Wyoming decision to reject a plea agreement by Kyrean Tillman, the last of two involved in a 2010 tragedy concerning the death of a 13-year-old girl on the Wind River Indian Reservation.

Tillman, 19, Eastern Shoshone, pleaded guilty in District Court of accessory after the fact (voluntary manslaughter) and sexual abuse of a minor, a lesser offense than his initial charge of accessory to second-degree murder and would result in him being sentenced to nearly 6 years.

Following Tillman’s sometimes-contradictory statements, the District Court sentenced him to 6 ½ years in prison and 13 years of supervised release.

Federal sentencing guidelines according to court records said sentencing should be between 4 to 5-plus years.

Tillman appealed the plea rejection and the length of the sentence, according to the Tenth Circuit, which upheld the lower court decision in stating, “After examining the briefs and appellate record, this panel has determined unanimously that oral argument would not materially assist the determination of this appeal.”

Tillman was the step-cousin of Marisa Spoonhunter, Northern Arapaho, whose brother, Robert Spoonhunter, 22, also Northern Arapaho, admitted killing her April 2, 2010 after he became enraged over the sexual behavior of his sister and Tillman. He placed her in a chokehold, pushed her away from him, and she hit her head on a weight bench, court records showed.

The three had been drinking together in a trailer near Arapahoe, Wyoming, on the reservation shared by the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone. Her body was left beneath a tree outside the trailer house in which the killing occurred, the court said.

In affirming the lower court’s decision, the Tenth Circuit said Tillman “initially stated he was not guilty. He said he was only pleading guilty because he knew he would lose at trial and that he only agreed with ‘some’ of the government’s evidence” and disputed many of the government’s facts.

When the District Court sentenced Tillman, the court said the guidelines were “inadequate punishment” for Tillman, noting that he “(g)ot (Mr. Spoonhunter’s 13-year-old sister) drunk…and then took advantage of her,” the act that enraged her brother and led to her death.

Robert Spoonhunter had been sentenced on January 3, 2011 to 13 years in prison and three years supervised release for voluntary manslaughter.

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