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Crispin's killers to prison; alleged sexual encounter 'never happened'

Mar 28, 2012 - By Christina George, Staff Writer

Two Northern Arapaho men charged in the beating death of John Michael Crispin III were sentenced to prison during separate hearings Monday at the Fremont County Courthouse in Lander.

Chief Federal District Court Judge Nancy D. Freudenthal sentenced Anthony Thomas Lincoln to nine years for his involvement in the 33-year-old man's death that occurred Aug. 5 at a residence on Blue Sky Highway near Ethete.

Lincoln's cousin, Ronald Keith York Jr., was sentenced to five years.

Both men are Ethete residents, as was Crispin.

Sexual claim withdrawn

During his hearing Monday, York, 23, said his statements made during the investigation alleging that the fatal beating was motivated by sexual activity involving himself and the victim "never happened."

He told Crispin's family in the audience that he was sorry for the accusation.

"I'm sorry I kicked Michael Crispin. ... I'm sorry I got drunk," York said. "I am sorry I lied ... . I kicked Michael because I thought he hit ... my cousin."

According to court documents, Lincoln and York were indicted Sept. 22 on charges of second-degree murder, assault resulting in serious bodily injury, and assault with a dangerous weapon with intent to do bodily harm.

All three charges had aiding-and-abetting components.

Lincoln and York have undisclosed plea agreements that dismissed some charges in exchange for guilty pleas made during change-of-plea hearings in January.

Lincoln pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter, and York pleaded guilty to aggravated assault.

Restitution ordered

Freudenthal mandated restitution for Crispin's funeral expenses and three years of supervised release following both men's prison sentences.

Supporters of both defendants and the victim attended the federal court hearings March 26.

"Mr. Crispin's family has obviously suffered a loss," said Lincoln's federal public defender James H. Barrett at the start of his client's sentencing.

He noted that Lincoln, 26, remains puzzled by what he did that evening and the degree of his participation in Crispin's death.

"He simply doesn't know," Barrett said.

Barrett said the evidence in the case "is very confused."

"This was and is a very difficult case for us," U.S. Attorney Timothy Gist told the court, adding that no punishment would be enough to make up for Crispin's family's loss.

"Judge, this is a very difficult matter for the Crispin family," Gist said. "I think today will go a long way (for closure)."

Brutal beating

According to court documents, Crispin died from cerebral bruising, bilateral subdural hematomas and multiple blunt-force trauma injuries to the face and head.

Documents also stated Crispin suffered several bruises that extended from his scalp through to his brain, a fractured skull and multiple fractures to the hyoid bone in his neck.

According to a sworn statement by FBI Special Agent Douglas E. Walker, the three men were partying Aug. 5 at the residence on Blue Sky Highway.

Walker's affidavit stated that during the brutal assault, Crispin was struck three times in the chest and once in the head with an infant car seat. He also was kicked in the ribs and hit three or four times with a 30-pound dumbbell before the dumbbell was used to choke him.

"You have to accept responsibility for the things you do when you drink," York said during court. "I'm very, very sorry for the way things (happened)."

Freudenthal said at first glance, the imposed sentence "seems much too lenient for such a brutal murder."

She said a lot remains unknown given that those who were involved that evening were "heavily intoxicated."

"We have a confusing jumble of evidence," she said.

"What is reasonable when someone is so tragically killed?" she asked, adding the court agrees with the sentences. "At the end of the day, it's reasonable and just."

Victim impact statements

John Michael Crispin II handed Freudenthal a framed photo of his late son, who went by "Mike," to look at while FBI victim specialist Rita Gatlin read his prepared statement at the podium.

"Human life cannot be replaced," Gatlin said.

She said the family was "outraged" that it was suggested the death was linked to homosexual activity.

Gatlin, still speaking for the victim's father, questioned how two people could be involved in a beating that left his son hard to identify.

"What would make them so angry?" Gatlin asked.

Emotional cries filled the courtroom as she noted there were still pieces of the puzzle missing.

Then John Crispin II spoke.

"Why?" he asked the judge. "What did he do?"

"I agree with you that this poor young man Mike was very, very badly beaten," Freudenthal said. "It was a brutal and savage beating that no person should suffer."

Freudenthal said some of what has been suggested is "nothing but shameful speculation."

Crispin's grandmother, who did not give her name during her statement, told the court that Crispin was "a very outdoors, country guy."

"I don't think he was homosexual; I don't like that word," she said. "We brought him up good. ... We don't have a grandson no more."

Lincoln spoke with remorse.

"I never intended for this to happen. There's nothing I can say or do," he said. "I'm truly sorry."

Substance abuse appeal

Lincoln's mother, Margaret Willow, said the substance abuse "running rampant" on the Wind River Indian Reservation and nationwide played a role in Crispin's death.

"If there's anything I (could) do, I'd take alcohol and drugs away from the world because that's why we're here today," she said. "It hurts so bad that I can't hug my son."

Before several individuals made statements on York's behalf during his hearing, his federal public defender Peter Timbers reiterated previous statements about his client being untruthful about the sexual activity element of the crime.

"Mr. York engaged in the assault," Timbers said. "He kicked the victim, and that is it."

Timbers said it was wrong for York to lie to the investigator.

Family members, including York's mother, Linda Willow, expressed sympathy to the Crispin family.

"I love you, son," she said to York before taking her seat.

"I am so sorry for this situation," said Norman Willow, York's uncle. "I understand both sides. ... Every time you pick up alcohol, you're putting your life in danger. ... I'm here to try to erase the minds of both sides, to turn it over to the creator, and alcohol, you know, is a major factor here."

Freudenthal said there was nothing she could do to "unravel that terrible evening, how it began or how it ended."

She expressed hope the community would learn from the tragedy.

"The violence surrounding Mike's death is shocking," Freudenthal said.

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