The following story was written and reported by Jesse Abernathy, Native Sun News Editor. All content © Native Sun News.
Teen indicted for Apple’s murder|
Martin man’s sister continues campaign against violence
By Jesse Abernathy
Native Sun News Editor
MARTIN — In a Dec. 4 news statement, the Bennett County State’s Attorney’s Office, which is coordinating the investigation into the death of Albert Apple Sr., announced that a suspect had been indicted for his murder: Seventeen-year-old Matthew Libby of Martin has been charged with first-degree murder, first-degree burglary and second-degree robbery in connection with Apple’s death.
Apple spent a significant amount of time helping others and working against violence during his lifetime.
In the early morning hours of Nov. 8, the Oglala Lakota man with a penchant for bettering his community was inexplicably found dead beside his car in a roadside ditch near his hometown of Martin, in Bennett County.
Apple was 48 and had been released from the hospital for ongoing health issues just days before his death.
He appeared to have been violently beaten, his sister, Amanda Takes War Bonnett, who also is Oglala Lakota, told Native Sun News last month.
In further describing Apple’s condition when the family viewed his body at Sioux Funeral Home in Pine Ridge Village just prior to his Nov. 17 funeral in Martin, Takes War Bonnett said last month in an email message to NSN: “His neck was broken, his jaw was broken, nose broke and his face looked beat and no broken bones or other injuries on his body just his head. If I didn’t know that was him I wouldn’t have recognized that as him.”
According to the state’s attorney, the autopsy indicated that Apple was killed by severe blunt force trauma to his head, which is in line with Takes War Bonnett’s observation of her brother’s condition post-mortem.
When the official statement regarding their relative’s brutal killing was read to them, Apple’s family had many questions, Takes War Bonnett said the evening of Dec. 10, but very few answers. What was contained in the statement “was all we could be told,” she said.
“We asked all kinds of questions: How did it happen? Was a court date set (for Libby)? Was the autopsy done? Were other people involved? But no one could tell us any of that.”
The official autopsy report has yet to be made available to Apple’s family.
As required by South Dakota law, Libby is being charged as an adult because of his age and the nature of his crimes. Under state law, an individual is considered to be an adult at 18.
The young man is currently being held at the Western South Dakota Juvenile Services Center in Rapid City and has had a public defender appointed to represent him by Kathleen Trandahl, a judge serving South Dakota’s 6th Judicial Circuit Court.
According to Takes War Bonnett, her brother more than likely knew his attacker personally. “Everybody knows everybody in Martin, it’s a small community,” she added.
Just over a thousand residents – half of whom are Native American – call Martin “home.” The tiny hamlet is bookended by the Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations, with part of the town lying within a “checkerboarded” area of Pine Ridge.
The homicide investigation continues and is being jointly conducted by the Bennett County Sheriff’s Office, as the lead agency, Martin Police Department and South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation.
In the wake of his untimely passing, Apple’s family continues to search for answers as to why their brother, son, husband, father, grandfather – and friend of many – with a generous heart and kind soul could have journeyed to the spirit world amid such violence.
And during a Nov. 16 candlelight vigil and walk spearheaded by Takes War Bonnett in memory of her brother and to raise awareness about the rampant interpersonal violence on Pine Ridge Reservation and in the surrounding area, including Martin, she told the approximately 60 attendees respectfully gathered that although her brother “struggled with alcoholism in the last years of his life and he struggled with his health, he didn’t deserve to die the way he did. This is a wake-up call to our family that the hurt needs to stop somewhere.”
The memorial was held in Apple’s neighborhood of Sunrise Housing in Martin, a community of about 50 homes overseen by the Oglala Sioux Lakota Housing Authority. Oglala Sioux tribal leaders in attendance included novice President Bryan Brewer, Chief of Police Richard Greenwald, and the tribe’s first female president and Apple and Takes War Bonnett’s cousin, Cecelia Apple Fire Thunder, who was in office from 2004-2006. Also in attendance was Rosebud Sioux Tribe Chief of Police Grace Her Many Horses, who was inadvertently identified as Apple’s niece in an initial NSN article on Apple’s death from the Nov. 21-27 edition (“Woman confronts brother’s death,” Vol. 4-Iss. 35).
Her Many Horses worked alongside Apple during his days as a police officer on Pine Ridge.
“My baby brother did good things in life,” Takes War Bonnett told NSN last month.
Both Apple and Takes War Bonnett were employees of retired newspaper publisher Tim Giago. They worked with Giago, who is Oglala Lakota, during his tenure as head of the Lakota Times, which he built from the ground up on Pine Ridge in 1981, and again at Giago’s Lakota Journal, which he established in 2000. The Lakota Times later became Indian Country Today and migrated to Rapid City before being sold to the Oneida Nation of New York in 1998.
The tragedy of her brother’s senseless demise has become a springboard for Takes War Bonnett in tackling violence head-on.
On Nov. 20, said Takes War Bonnett, a meeting of approximately 20 community members was held in Martin to discuss ways to promote awareness of and address the ever-increasing community interpersonal violence. Such violence has come to plague Indian country over the course of the 500-plus years since initial contact with Europeans.
She said community members want to work with law enforcement officials to improve communication between civilians and those hired to protect and serve them, and to collaborate to secure resources to aid in the fight against violence, particularly among members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe.
“Tribal members need to know what resources are there for them for healing, recovery and help,” said Takes War Bonnett.
Another meeting of community members has been scheduled for 5 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 12, at the Wild Horse Butte Corp. building, located at 401 5th Ave. in Martin.
“As a group, we want to form a task force to work with law enforcement and other community agencies to promote awareness about violence,” she said.
Dealing with Apple’s death is “kind of hard for the family, but now that we know more – that it was a robbery is basically what (law enforcement) is saying,” it helps ease the pain, said Takes War Bonnett.
“And we know all the issues with law enforcement; we know the police department is stretched thin, like the tribal police, they don’t really have a big force and they’re stretched thin across a big land span,” she noted. The Pine Ridge Reservation encompasses some 3,500 lonely, isolated square miles, or 2,000,000 acres, which is larger than the states of Delaware and Rhode Island combined. It is the eighth-largest reservation in the U.S.
Takes War Bonnett said she thinks her brother Albert would want her to find ways to work against the overwhelming violence within their community “because he was always trying to help people.”
At this point, Takes War Bonnett professes no ill will against Matthew Libby, the teenager accused of killing her brother. “It’s tragic because he’s so young," she said.
Both the Martin Police Department and DCI declined comment on the ongoing investigation of Apple’s murder, instead referring NSN to the Bennett County State’s Attorney’s Office. Bennett County Sheriff Lucas Hamar could not immediately be reached for comment.
Bennett County Deputy State’s Attorney Ken Orrock, who is the contact for the Bennett County State’s Attorney’s Office, also could not immediately be reached for comment.
(Contact Jesse Abernathy at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Native Sun News: Death of Oglala man considered 'suspicious'