Law | National

Native Sun News: Guilty verdict in death of Lower Brule boy

The following story was written and reported by Karin Eagle, Native Sun News Staff Writer All content © Native Sun News.

Four year old Mason Naser who was killed by the girlfriend of his father. Donika Gonzalez has been found guilty of First Degree Manslaughter.

Verdict handed down in child’s death
By Karin Eagle
Native Sun News Staff Writer

CHAMBERLAIN — Donika Gonzalez was found guilty of first degree manslaughter and one count of aggravated assault on Friday, April 11 in the death of Mason Naser.

Gonzales, 23, stood trial this week at the Brule County Courthouse in Chamberlain facing charges of second-degree murder, two alternate counts of first-degree manslaughter, and alternate counts of aggravated assault and felony child abuse.

Gonzales was found not guilty of second-degree murder, one count of first-degree manslaughter and felony child abuse. The trial lasted six days.

"I was surprised," Assistant Attorney General Bob Mayer said of the verdict. "I thought we presented enough to reach beyond a reasonable doubt for murder."

The first-degree manslaughter conviction carries a maximum penalty of life in prison and a $50,000 fine. The aggravated assault charge carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a $30,000 fine. The jury took only three hours to reach their verdict.

"First-degree manslaughter carries the possibility of life sentence," Malissa Walters, Mason’s maternal aunt said. "I know she's getting what she deserves."

On February 21, 2013, police were called to the rural residence of Tyler Naser Sr. where he lived with Gonzalez, then 22. Little Mason Naser was unresponsive and not showing any signs of life when he arrived at the Sanford Chamberlain Medical Center.

"Mason had no heartbeat and no clinical signs of life,” said Travis Sanger, the on-call emergency room doctor the evening of the child's death. "That includes his not breathing on his own."

Sanger was among the first witnesses to testify at the opening of the trial of Gonzalez, who was charged with the hitting, kicking and stomping that led to Mason’s death.

Tyler Naser Sr. is Mason Naser's father, but Gonzales is not the child's mother.

A jury of nine men and five women were selected on April 3 and opening statements began on the April 4 with the state of South Dakota’s opening statements at the Brule County Courthouse. Although the crime occurred in Buffalo County, the trial was moved to Brule County for space reasons.

Assistant Attorney General Lindsey S. Quasney told the jury of nine men and five women that Gonzales said, after she was arrested, she didn't know why she hurt Naser, because he was "her little helper."

"The evidence will show you the defendant did indeed hurt 'her little helper' and hurt him really bad," Quasney said. Naser was medically dead upon arrival at the hospital, he affirmed, but pronounced dead at 6:14 p.m.

Naser's liver and pancreas were severely injured due to blunt force trauma, which caused him to bleed internally, according to expert testimony during the trial.

"The vessel was torn open and a piece of liver was sticking into the vessel," he said of findings during the autopsy he performed on Naser. "That's significant because that blood goes to the heart and then to the lungs."

That clue led Snell to find a piece of liver had traveled through the aorta to the heart and into Naser's left lung, which cut off the blood flow and oxygen to that organ, he said.

The prosecution showed autopsy photos to the jury and court, depicting bruising and abrasions Naser suffered to his face, left eye, cheek, head, arms, back and legs.

"This child had many scars all over his body," Snell said.

During the autopsy, Snell discovered a large amount of blood pooled in the abdomen, which was removed during the child's autopsy.

"This is acute blood loss," Snell said. "This was not slowly bleeding over time."

The blood loss originated from damage to Naser's liver -- he suffered a laceration to the front of his liver and the left side of his liver was severed.

In cross examination, Doug Papendick, an attorney for Gonzales, asked whether these injuries could have been caused by a fall from a bunk bed or 4-wheeler which was offered as the reason for the injuries by the defense.

Snell said those falls could cause bruises like those he found on Naser's scalp, but could not cause the damage found to Naser's liver, pancreas and aorta.

The family of Mason Nasser is determined to use Mason’s unfortunate death as both an opportunity to educate others about child abuse and to hold the state of South Dakota’s Social Services department accountable for their role in his death.

A social worker for the State named Nancy Tichy told Walters “going out there (Nasser home) is a waste of time because the boys are perfectly safe.” The family then went to the Lower Brule Sioux Tribal Court and asked them to step in based on ICWA and the allegations of abuse but the tribe ruled in favor of the Nasser’s and awarded custody to them.

Shortly after the death of Mason, Nancy Tichy the case worker who was assigned by the State of South Dakota to look after Mason and his brothers resigned.

“We just don’t want what happened to Mason to happen to another child,” said Mellissa Walters. “We want something good to come out of this so Mason can have a purpose,” she added.

(Contact Karin Eagle at

Copyright permission Native Sun News

Related Stories:
Native Sun News: Seeking justice for Lower Brule Sioux toddler (4/11)

Join the Conversation