Shane Michael Sandcrane Pleads Guilty in U.S. Federal Cour
Bill Mercer, United States Attorney for the District of Montana, announced today that during a federal court session in Billings on October 6, 2009, before Chief U.S. District Judge Richard F. Cebull, SHANE MICHAEL SANDCRANE, a 21-year-old resident of Ashland, pled guilty to aiding and abetting second degree murder. Sentencing is set for January 7, 2010. He is currently detained.
In an Offer of Proof filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Lori Harper Suek, the government stated it would have proved at trial the following:
The Bureau of Indian Affairs received a report that an adult female (R.W.T.) was missing. BIA officers initiated a missing persons investigation. Officers learned that R.W.T. was last seen leaving a party with Reno Runs Above. As the investigation progressed, officers eventually suspected foul play and converted the missing persons investigation into a criminal investigation. Their suspicions led them to three people - Trinidad Quiroz, his son, SANDCRANE, and Runs Above. Although officers received conflicting information from Runs Above and SANDCRANE, they were able to distill the following.
R.W.T. left the party with Runs Above and they eventually met up with Quiroz and SANDCRANE. All four were drinking in a trailer on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation. As they drank, the men attempted to convince R.W.T. to have sex with all three of them. She repeatedly told the men no. Her denials made Quiroz angry. All three men assaulted her. Quiroz and SANDCRANE attempted to break her neck and kill her. After the assault, Quiroz and SANDCRANE left R.W.T. and Runs Above at the trailer. They returned to the trailer a short time later with a gun that Runs Above had stolen and then sold to Quiroz about six months prior. Quiroz shot R.W.T. in her left temple.
After discussing different ways to get rid of the body, the men carried the body outside and put it on the hood of a car. Their intent was to drive to a nearby river and sink or bury the body. The body fell off the hood and Quiroz, who was driving, drove over the body and then backed over the body. The body fell off of the hood a second time. They then talked about burying the body, but could not do it without shovels. It is disputed who came up with the idea of burning the body, but it is undisputed that all three put the body back on the hood, drove back to the trailer, and drug the body to a fire pit close to the trailer. The men burned her body and furniture from the trailer. They also burned the carpet in the living room where R.W.T. was shot, and burned their clothing, to destroy any evidence of the murder. Later, they burned and abandoned the car that they had used to transport and to drive over the body. Witnesses stated that the fire burned for five days.
The day after the murder, the men returned to the trailer with bleach to clean up blood and destroy more evidence.
About a week after the murder, Quiroz shot himself with the same gun that he used to murder R.W.T. After his suicide, Runs Above and SANDCRANE agreed not to tell law enforcement about the murder and the cover-up.
Runs Above was confronted by the owner of the trailer about the burned furniture and carpet. The owner also confronted him about a large amount of blood outside of the front door on the porch, the steps leading up to the porch, and on a rug near the steps. The owner said that Runs Above "got mad and walked off." The next day, the porch, front steps, and rug were burned. Runs Above was also questioned by R.W.T.'s brother. He asked Runs Above about the fire. Runs Above told him that they were cold.
Law enforcement searched the trailer and tried to recover whatever evidence they could that was left. They found a bullet hole in the wall. SANDCRANE confirmed that it was caused by the bullet that killed R.W.T. Bone fragments and ash taken from the fire pit were sent to the lab for DNA testing, but because they were so badly burned, no DNA testing could be performed.
SANDCRANE faces possible penalties of life in prison, a $250,000 fine and 5 years supervised release.
The investigation was a cooperative effort between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
A copy of the Offer of Proof can be obtained by contacting Sally Frank at (406) 247-4638.