BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A woman from Montana’s Crow Indian Reservation was sentenced to more than two decades in prison for killing her daughter by throwing the 3-year-old out of a fast-moving pickup after an overnight drinking binge.
The judge overseeing the case called it “incomprehensible.”
Mary Agnes Leider, of St. Xavier, was sentenced Tuesday to 21 years and 10 months in prison without chance of parole for second-degree murder in the December 2012 death of Tennielle Ameryl Big Day.
With dozens of relatives from both sides of the girl’s family packed into a Billings courtroom, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy said he wanted to keep the 25-year-old defendant from doing further harm and send a message about the dangers of alcohol abuse on the reservation.
He said that in 18 years on the bench, he had never encountered such depravity in a criminal case, and the details made him nauseous.
“How could a mother do this to her own child?” Molloy said. He said members of the tribe need to stand up and say “enough is enough. Stop the drinking and the drugs and the violence.”
Authorities say Leider’s daughter was in her lap as she rode in a pickup driven by her brother after a night of heavy drinking in the Hardin area. The vehicle was going at least 45 mph when Leider uttered an expletive, opened her door and threw the girl into the roadway.
Leider and two brothers had drunk a quart of gin and up to 60 beers in the hours leading up to Tennielle’s death, Molloy said. The defendant later registered a blood-alcohol level more than three times the legal limit for driving.
She pleaded guilty in July.
The young girl’s relatives wailed loudly as Molloy recounted the crash and described Tennielle’s injuries: “Head and brain were smashed and spinal cord destroyed … by the stupidity of her mother.”
Leider sat passively, her head bowed, through most of the sentencing hearing. When given a chance to address the court, she offered no explanation for why she killed her daughter.
“Words can’t explain anything,” Leider said. “Nothing can bring her back and I have to live with that.”
The victim’s paternal relatives said their family would never forgive Leider and asked the court to impose a harsh sentence. Her father, Tennison Big Day, described Tennielle as a Lego-loving baby who liked to perform traditional Crow dances and was raised primarily by her grandparents.
The girl’s uncle, Haywood Big Day II, described how the death reverberated through the Crow reservation, where children play a central role as the future of the tribe. He said the victim’s grandparents blamed themselves for not keeping the girl away from Leider, who had previous drunken driving offenses and a longstanding problem with alcoholism.
The defendant’s lawyer, public defender David Merchant, asked the court to show mercy by sentencing Leider to a 15-year prison term. But prosecutor Lori Suek said the extreme conduct in the case merited a term at the high end of sentencing guidelines, a recommendation Molloy adopted.
Leider also was ordered to pay $11,123 restitution to cover Tennielle’s funeral costs and her father’s lost wages.
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