Native Sun News: Yankton men seek justice after 17 years

The following story was written and reported by Ernestine Chasing Hawk. All content © Native Sun News.

MARTY, SOUTH DAKOTA — The accusations were bizarre and originally five men were charged. Since the trial all of the alleged victims have recanted their trial testimony but four men remain in prison where they have been for the last 17 years.

Barbara C. Johnson, attorney turned author is writing a book on the case that exposes a conspiracy between a prosecutor, a judge, a social workers, a therapist and court appointed attorneys that tried the 1994 case in a South Dakota courtroom.

“After reading the transcript of their trial, I, not as a practicing attorney but as an attorney-turned-author, concluded that the defendants did not get due process and equal protection as constitutionally required in a court of law. These four men are innocent,” Johnson writes.

She said it was clear that the prosecution was looking for a conviction. “Prosecutors are supposed to look for justice not just convictions.” Johnson said.

The four men are related, two brothers and two cousins, Jesse and Desmond Rouse, Garfield Feather and Russell Hubbeling, and are all from the Yankton Sioux Indian reservation.

“The men were convicted of sexual assault of their nieces. The only alleged evidence consisted of statements by the four children. The children had been taken out of their home, and manipulated, controlled, and brainwashed (a) by a Social Worker, Jean Brock, who had a motive of revenge, (b) by a foster mother who was motivated by then-current and anticipated financial benefits, (c) by a therapist, whose techniques were dubious, and (d) by a guardian ad litem, who did not act in the best interests of the children,” Johnson writes.

She states that the medical evidence introduced by the prosecution “can be characterized as nothing but suspect – a smoke-screen.”

Johnson points out that Doctors to whom the children were brought provided neither written reports to the defense counsel nor photographs requisite to the colposcopic examinations the children were made to endure. At 4, 5, and 6 years of age, the children were younger than the minimum of 13 years of age recommended in order for colposcopy to be performed.

“Colposcopy is a technique using a camera and dyes on a vagina and anus to determine whether there is evidence of sexual assault or molestation. In this case, the medical professionals claimed that pictures were not taken. It is likely that any pictures taken showed nothing and were therefore withheld,” she concluded.

Johnson laments that a significant by-product of arresting the four Native American men and falsely charging them with crimes “is the victimization of the children removed from the home and prepared for trial for 5-8 months later.

“Now adults, these children suffer not only from feelings of guilt for having testified negatively about their uncles but even more from feeling that no matter what they say they are not believed by the court," Johnson writes. "For instance, at the outset, the children denied that 'anything happened.' After months of threats and manipulation, they testified exactly as they were instructed to do.

"On appeal of their uncles’ convictions, the appellate panel, specifically outlining the 'children’s story,' overturned the convictions and remanded for a new trial. The new trial never happened," she writes. "By 2001, having grown older, the children, who had been recanting their false testimony since 1996, finally testified again in court."

"Again the judge did not believe the children’s recantations. Depressed and angry and fearful of whites and the courts, some of the children have become alcoholics and drug users. One of these children in this case is so seriously depressed that he has become not only a self-mutilator but has also seriously attempted suicide by slicing his wrists," she continues.

The four men, impoverished and unable to afford adequate defense council, used court appointed attorneys.

“Although the charges against the four defendants were not complicated, the legal issues certainly were and required attorneys with experience and competence. One lawyer had never had a trial, one had maybe had one trial, another had maybe little more experience, and one, interestingly, was a retired judge. Counsel did not conduct discovery; nor did they investigate motives; they did not call witnesses they should have called; they ignored information about which the defendants themselves told their respective counsel,” she writes.

Some actions of the attorneys were overtly prejudicial to their clients. They missed statutory deadlines for the filing of certain pleadings. As a result, the judge denied them permission to produce alternative explanations of the alleged sexual abuse.

“One can conceive of one, perhaps even two, of the attorneys to miss deadlines, but all four attorneys to miss the deadlines! Unlikely. The attorneys refused to call witnesses whom the defendants believed would testify on their behalf. And when they did call certain people, the judge did not allow them to testify,” Johnson wrote. “Further, to defend oneself, one must have the opportunity to cross-examine your accusers and to present your own witnesses. The defense counsel failed both to cross-examine the prosecution witnesses and to present the defendants’ defense adequately. The only possible conclusion is that due process and equal protection and fundamental fairness were absent in the criminal case against the four indigenous Americans.”

One of the convicted men, Desmond Benedict Rouse, writes, “Imagine, yourself as a young innocent man, you had a family, you had children, you had a job, you had a life. Then in an instant it is all taken away from you! And you go to trial, and there is nothing you can say or do to prove your innocence."

"You are being accused of sexual assault of your very own children. Your little brothers and little sisters held prisoners for 6 months, and are being forced, being manipulated into submission to make up some of the sickest lies possible," Rouse writes. "All this happens because some career minded prosecutors wish to move up on the proverbial ladder. Yet when you go to trial you are found guilty on the prosecutions very own rehearsed testimony! However there is no evidence that you are guilty.”

Rouse would not accept deals offered by the prosecution which would have meant two and a half years behind bars. “You do not want to plead guilty to a sick crime that was never ever committed,” Rouse said. He is instead sentenced to 30 years behind bars.

“You wait for justice to be done and your new 'fair' trial? When will you get some strong hearted people to help you?" Rouse writes. "When will true justice be done for you? Another year comes to an end, another holiday season spent away from your loved ones. And you are still in prison and still innocent.”

Statement of innocence
“We are brothers Jesse and Desmond Rouse and cousins Garfield Feather and Russell Hubbeling. We are four native American men and we are in federal prison because of the selfish reasons of others who conspired for our false imprisonment resulting in malicious prosecution, judicial injustice and impropriety, prosecution for the sake of prosecution, lack of funds for legal aid, insufficiency of the medical expert evidence and ineffective assistance of counsel to prove our innocence and many other errors of one kind or another, we have been wrongfully accused and wrongfully convicted of a crime which we did not commit and have been left to languish resulting in our loss of liberty, civil rights, productive lifestyle, financial and personal ruin, mental anguish, social condemnation and personal and family embarrassment for the remainder of our lives.”

“Please help us if you can! We have been incarcerated being innocent men for 16 years now but we still hope that one day we will be given the change to be exonerated from all these disgusting and fabricated allegations. We just want the truth to be known. We thank you from the heart! Please help us!”

You can sign a petition called freedom4yankton4.

(Contact Ernestine Chasing Hawk at

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