Two Life Sentences For Wind River Man Who Shot Neighbor In Back Of The Head

Francis Acebo was given two mandatory life sentences in prison Thursday for killing neighbor Derek Redstar Pappan by shooting him the back of the head. “Our hearts will never be the same,” said Pappan’s mother.

Leo Wolfson

May 16, 20244 min read

The J.C. O'Mahoney Federal Courthouse in Cheyenne.
The J.C. O'Mahoney Federal Courthouse in Cheyenne. (Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily)

CHEYENNE — Derek Redstar Pappan leaves behind much in this world.

Francis James Acebo, 34, was sentenced in U.S. District Court on Thursday to a pair of life sentences in federal prison for shooting Pappan in the head and killing him in 2023.

But first Pappan's family offered emotional testimony about what his death has meant to them and the hole left by Acebo’s violent action.

“Our hearts will never be the same,” said Pappan’s mother, Evelyn Brown, during the sentencing at the federal courthouse in downtown Cheyenne. “I don’t think any of us will ever be OK.”

Acebo shot and killed Derek Redstar Pappan, 44, in a single-wide trailer south of Riverton on the Wind River Indian Reservation in March 2023.

In a possible opioid-induced fit of paranoia, Acebo charged into Pappan’s home early in the morning and shot him in the back of the head with a pistol. Witnesses had said Acebo exhibited paranoia and “crazy eyes” at the time, and fear of being spied on by drones and through his cellphone.

U.S. District Court Judge Alan Johnson said the motive behind Pappan’s murder is still unclear to him, even after sitting through an entire trial about it.

“His drug addiction was too much to overcome,” Johnson said.

Pappan had indicated he thought he was acting in self-defense and trying to protect his family.

A Family Grieves

Pappan, who would have been 45 on Thursday, leaves behind three children.

His mother, who cried throughout her victim impact statement, said the family will never get over the death of her son. She described him as her gentle protector, a source of hugs, healing and significant happiness.

“He was a warrior at heart,” Brown said.

She also expressed anger with Acebo and what he took from her family. Brown told how she had made food for Acebo’s family, who were also at the sentencing.

“I hope and pray you’re never going to have to bury your child,” she said. “I don’t know why you had to do this.”

Acebo, who was wearing an orange prison jumpsuit with his long, black hair tied into two braids hanging down each side of his head, made no comments during his sentencing. According to Johnson, he had been raising his two daughters with special needs, whose mother abandoned them.

Judge Johnson said Acebo’s life actually appeared to be heading in a more positive direction than Pappan’s before the inexplicable turn both their lives took with that pull of a trigger. The trailer Pappan was found living in was in a state of squalor, Johnson said, with no heat or running water, and blankets covering the gaps around the outside doors.

Life Plus More

In February, a jury convicted Acebo of first-degree murder following a five-day trial in Cheyenne. On Thursday, Johnson followed the sentencing guidelines in giving Acebo two mandatory life sentences for first-degree murder and causing death with a firearm during a crime of violence. He also got another 10 years for a related firearm offense.

“That’s the law,” Johnson said. “It’s recommended and it’s pretty straightforward.”

Acebo also must pay $7,132.89 in restitution to Pappan’s family to cover their funeral expenses.

These were the first felonies Acebo was charged with as an adult, although he was charged with a felony as a juvenile.

Acebo’s attorney said he plans to file an appeal.

Leo Wolfson can be reached at

Share this article



Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter