Law | National

Native Sun News: Alcohol a common factor in Rapid City murders

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

The jail in Pennington County, South Dakota. Photo from Pennington County

Alcohol major factor in Indian murdering Indian
By Richie Richards
Native Sun News Staff Writer

RAPID CITY –– Premeditation is the planning, plotting, deliberating and specific intent to commit a crime for some period of time. In many jurisdictions, this is the difference between first degree and second degree crimes.

Of the three murders involving Native Americans in Rapid City over the past year, all of the defendants have been charged with second-degree murder.

The other common factor in these homicides: alcohol.

The “early morning hours” appears to be a deciding time to commit murderous acts in Rapid City. In an apartment building directly across the street from the public library, Lars Greeley, 59, was found dead by a resident of the building on the morning of May 15, 2014.

Autopsy reports conclude Greeley died as a result of blunt force trauma. Witnesses state a party was happening in an apartment, when Daniel Espinosa, 28, attacked Greeley. Two persons attempting to intervene in the beating were assaulted with a knife by Espinosa.

Espinosa is currently held on a $500,000 bail in Pennington County Jail awaiting trial. He is charged with second degree murder and two aggravated assault charges.

On July 6, 2014 according to reports, Michael Hand, 18 at the time, walked into Walgreens on Mountain View Road around 5:30 a.m. along with a companion, and asked staff to call 911. After a brief interview with police, the body of Myron Wayne Rock Jr., 47, was found in a nearby alley having been killed by Hand.

Rock died as a result of blunt force trauma and strangulation. In court proceedings, Hand has pleaded not guilty to second degree murder by reason of insanity. At the time of the homicide, he had been drinking and taking the anti-depressant drug Prozac. Detectives said alcohol was a factor. Hand is held on a $500,000 bail in Pennington County Jail awaiting trial.

Corinne Vermillion, 43, made her initial court appearance at the Pennington County Courthouse on Jan. 12, 2015. She pled not guilty to second degree murder for the single stab wound she admitted to doing on Donny Aaron LaDeaux, 37, in the early hours of Jan. 8.

The couple shared an apartment at 311 East Adams Street. This is a public housing complex for low-income families. Two children were in the home at the time of the stabbing.

Initially, Vermillion said she stabbed LaDeaux because he took her vodka, but changed her story for court saying the stabbing was a matter of self-defense during an argument. This will be for the jury to decide.

LaDeaux was laid to rest in Manderson on Saturday, Jan. 17; while Vermillion is being held on a $250,000 bail in Pennington County Jail awaiting trial.

First degree murder is an intentional murder that is willful and premeditated with malice aforethought. Second degree murder is an intentional murder with malice aforethought, but is not planned or premeditated in advance.

Voluntary manslaughter, sometimes called “a crime of passion murder,” is any intentional killing that involved no prior intent to kill in which on the spot circumstances would cause a reasonable person to become emotionally or mentally disturbed.

Involuntary manslaughter is a homicide resulting from a lack of intention to cause death but involving an intentional, or negligent, act leading to death; such as a drunk-driving caused death.

These three murders involving Native Americans in Rapid City this past year were all alcohol related. Second degree murder seems to be the standard charge when dealing with alcohol related deaths in our community.

According to the cases examined, alcohol intoxication appears to negate a conscious decision for planning, plotting or deliberating and grand juries have brought charges of second degree murder.

Charging defendants with second degree murder leaves wiggle room to reduce charges to a lesser charge, but assures a harsh sentence. There is a mandatory life sentence for second degree murder in South Dakota.

These procedures seem to be an assembly line style of justice. Originally charging Native Americans accused of murder on lesser charges or charging killers of Native Americans with harsher charges seems to be that little extra effort not being done by our local grand jury.

Alcohol, unfairly, is a deciding factor in the current judiciary system here in Rapid City. Persons are getting away with murder literally, while others are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Each case must go through the assembly line court proceedings with standardized methods for prosecuting cases.

More consideration should be given to the original charges of defendants- especially in homicides. Native Americans are not second class citizens and deserve their right to a fair trial and fair justice.

In a letter to the judge defending his actions, Daniel Espinosa wrote, “the disease of alcohol plagued me.” The disease of alcohol has plagued the court system in Rapid City, as well.

A current listing of inmates at the Pennington County Jail can be found online at

(Contact Richie Richards at

Copyright permission Native Sun News

Join the Conversation