CASPER — An Arapahoe, Wyoming, couple charged with locking up and torturing a 13-year-old boy over a period of weeks this fall waived their preliminary hearings in the U.S. District Court of Wyoming on Thursday.
They also will remain in jail following detention hearings where Judge R. Michael Shickich ruled there were “no viable” release plans for either of the defendants.
Truman Sittingeagle, 36, and Kandace VanFleet, 33 (also known as Kandace Sittingeagle), entered the courtroom facing federal child abuse charges as well as a charges of aggravated child abuse of the boy.
An evidentiary affadavit in the case says that the boy was beaten, locked in his room, and deprived of food for allegedly stealing food and taking it to his room.
The pair entered the Casper courtroom escorted by federal marshals wearing white- and gray-striped jail clothing, and in handcuffs and chains.
Prior to the court hearing, Truman Sittingeagle sat at the defense table and conferred with attorney Andrew Francisco while VanFleet sat in a chair off to the side and conferred with her attorney, Dion Custis.
After Shickich called the hearing into order, both attorneys and their clients told the judge they had agreed to waive their respective preliminary exams. The judge then turned to the question of detention.
Francisco said he spoke with his client and that the pretrial office “has suggested that Mr. Sittingeagle remain in custody. We agree. There is not a viable release plan.”
The judge concurred.
‘A Risk And History’
“Given the nature of the charges, I don’t see a viable release plan,” Shickich said. “I find there is a risk and there is a history, and I determine Truman Sittingeagle will remain in custody.”
The judge then had Sittingeagle and his attorney switch chairs with VanFleet and her attorney so they could sit at the defense table.
Custis suggested there was a “viable” release plan for VanFleet that involved her staying at her mother’s house, while her mother cared for her five children that she has with Sittingeagle. He said the release could be set up so she has no contact with the children, who are all potential witnesses in the case against her involving her oldest son.
“She has had employment at the Dollar Store and believes that remains available,” Custis said, adding that if that employment did not work out, VanFleet could work as an “auto mechanic.”
U.S. Attorney Mackenzie Morrison argued that given the serious nature of the charges, the potential for witness tampering and her past record of unemployment, substance abuse and a prior charge involving the “battery of a household member” in 2014, VanFleet should remain in custody.
The judge agreed, saying that, “I don’t see a release plan being viable.”
He then looked at VanFleet and told her, “I’m not inclined to release you.”
The judge then mentioned a report of damage to the 13-year-old’s body as “a very disturbing form of violence.”
Charges Carry Potential Life Term
The pair face between 10 years to life on the child abuse charges and up to 25 years in prison for the aggravated child abuse charges, as well as fines.
Charges stem from a visit by Bureau of Indian Affairs School Resource Officer Matt Lee of Arapaho School on the Wind River Indian Reservation on Dec. 12, who had been checking on why the boy was not at school over a period of weeks. On previous visits, Lee was not allowed to see him. On Dec. 12, he demanded to see the boy.
Truman Sittingeagle, the boy’s stepfather, allowed Lee to see the boy, who had been hiding in a crawl space under the home, the affidavit says.
The boy emerged from the crawl space, his face bruised and swollen, and 10 pounds lighter than when Lee had last seen him, the document alleges.
The affadavit stated that both defendants at various times had allegedly beaten the boy with a stick, slapped him, and that VanFleet had kneed him between the legs during one incident.
An ambulance took the boy to Riverton’s SageWest Health Care, then an air ambulance took him to Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City.
A physician who evaluated the boy at the Primary Children’s Hospital said that in addition to the bruising and cuts, the boy’s right nasal bone was fractured and his spine contained healing lumbar fractures, the affidavit said. He had another serious reported injury that Cowboy State Daily has chosen not to disclose.
Dale Killingbeck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.