A Towaoc man was sentenced Friday to seven years in federal prison for the shooting death of another man.
Clarence M. Lehi, a member of the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe, was facing six to eight years in prison after signing a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Durango.
He pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and assault causing serious bodily injury.
He apologized and asked for forgiveness before sentencing.
“I just want to say I’m sorry,” he said. “Sorry for everything that I’m going through.”
Witnesses gave inconsistent statements about what happened, and their stories have changed over time, making it difficult for prosecutors to know exactly what happened.
What is known is that Lehi shot and killed Winslow Big Soldier, 22, on Nov. 5, 2011, at Lehi’s house on Mountain Sage Road on the Ute Mountain Ute reservation. He also accidentally shot and injured an 11-year-old boy, possibly the result of a ricochet bullet.
The hard feelings began one night in April 2011 when Lehi and Big Soldier were drinking together. Big Soldier assaulted Lehi as they walked down a road in Towaoc, according to a plea agreement.
Lehi was left unconscious on the side of the road. It is possible that Big Soldier returned later that night with a vehicle and drove over Lehi’s head, according to the plea agreement.
Big Soldier, who is Native American but not a member of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, admitted to assaulting Lehi and leaving him on the side of the road, but he denied running over Lehi with a car.
Lehi was flown to a hospital in Grand Junction. The Bureau of Indian Affairs was unable to determine which injuries were caused by Big Soldier and which injuries were caused by the car. Authorities are unsure who drove over Lehi.
Lehi eventually recovered from his injuries and returned to his home in Towaoc. He warned Big Soldier’s wife that if Big Soldier ever stepped foot into his house, he would shoot him.
But on the evening of Nov. 5, 2011, Lehi invited Big Soldier into his house, among others, to watch TV and drink beer.
Based on some recollections, Big Soldier asked to shake Lehi’s hand and apologize for the April 2011 assault. Lehi may have said, “OK, don’t worry about that,” and then grabbed a rifle from a closet and said, “Come here, I have a present for you.” He then fired two shots.
Big Soldier fell to the ground, and the 11-year-old boy was accidently shot in the buttocks.
When a BIA officer arrived, he found Big Soldier slumped over in the kitchen in a pool of blood and Lehi sitting on a bed in the living room with a carton of Budweiser beer on the floor in front of him.
Lehi claimed he acted in self-defense. He fired a warning shot before shooting Big Soldier, he said. He had a blood-alcohol level of 0.22 percent – almost three times the legal driving limit of 0.08 percent in Colorado.
In addition to serving seven years in prison, Lehi will be on supervised release for three years and must pay $3,225 in restitution for funeral and travel expenses incurred by Big Soldier’s family. He will receive about 15 months’ credit for time served.
Virginia Big Soldier, the victim’s sister, said Lehi should be going to prison for at least 15 years.
“His life is more than (six years in prison),” she said.