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Sunday, November 3, 2013

Mary Agnes Leider: Murder on the Crow Indian Reservation

     The Crow Indian Reservation, 3,500 square miles covering parts of Big Horn, Yellowstone, and Treasure Counties in southern Montana, is home to 8,000 tribe members. Geographically, it is America's fifth largest Indian enclave. In these jurisdictions serious crimes are federal offenses principally investigated by the FBI. Tribal police handle everything else. In many of these nations within a nation, rates of unemployment, alcoholism, and crime are significantly higher than the national average.

     Mary Agnes Leider, the mother of a three-year-old girl named Tannielle, lived with her mother in the Big Horn County town of St. Xavier on the Crow Reservation. On December 3, 2012, at four in the morning, she and her two brothers, after a night of drinking in Hardin, Montana, were on their way home in a Dodge pickup driven by her brother Wally. Lieder and her brothers had consumed a quart of gin and sixty beers. Mary, with her daughter sitting on her lap, sat in the front while her brother Arland rode in the back seat.

     Wally was driving 50 miles-per-hour on Highway 313 south of Hardin when Mary opened the truck door and tossed Tannielle out of the vehicle. Wally jammed on the brakes and ran back to find the child. He found her lying on the highway with blood gushing from of the back of her head. Because the little girl didn't seem to be breathing, Wally assumed she was dead.

     When Wally returned to the vehicle with Tannielle's unresponsive body in his arms, he told his sister and brother to get out of the truck. With his niece lying on the back seat, Wally drove toward St. Xavier with Mary and Orland sitting on the side of the road crying.

     Georgina Denny, the siblings' mother, was driving north on Highway 313 in search of her children and granddaughter when she passed Wally going the other direction. After both vehicles came to a stop, Georgina saw Tannielle and learned from Wally how she had died.

     A deputy with the Big Horn Sheriff's Office found Mary and Arland still sitting along Highway 313 crying uncontrollably. Mary told the officer that she and Wally had been arguing over how fast he was driving. (He was, in fact, driving under the speed limit.) According to Mary, when Wally stopped the vehicle abruptly, she banged her head of the dashboard. When she came to, Tannielle was gone. Mary said that's all she could remember. While the deputy spoke to Mary, police officers were questioning Wally and Georgina.

     Doctors at the Hardin Memorial Hospital pronounced Tannielle dead on arrival. At the same hospital, an FBI agent arranged to have samples taken of Mary's blood. (Her blood-alcohol level measured 0.24, three times the Montana threshold for driving under the influence.)

     While being questioned at the hospital, Mary alternated between her story that Tannielle had died in some kind of traffic accident, and "I killed my baby."

     According to the Montana State Medical Examiner's Office, Tannielle had died from severe head injuries. The medical examiner classified her death as homicide.

     The United States Attorney for the state of Montana charged Mary Agnes Leider with second-degree murder, a crime that carried a maximum sentence of life in prison. The federal magistrate denied Mary bond and appointed a public defender to represent her.

     On July 24, 2013, in a Billings, Montana courtroom, Mary pleaded guilty to the second-degree murder charge.

     On October 21, 3013, United States District Judge Donald Molloy, before imposing his sentence, said that in his eighteen years on the bench he had never encountered such depravity in a criminal case. The judge said the details of the offense made him nauseous. Because the judge wanted to keep the defendant from doing further harm, he sentenced her to twenty-one years in prison. (Leider's attorney had asked for a fifteen-year sentence.) Judge Molloy also said he wanted to send a message about the dangers of alcohol abuse on the Crow Reservation.

     Mary Leider, after receiver her sentence, said, "Words can't explain anything. Nothing can bring her back and I have to live with that."

     

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