Members of Jessie Waters’ family are seen holding signs in honor of their loved one outside the federal courthouse in Rapid City, South Dakota, in April 2016. Photo by Richie Richards / Native Sun News Today

Native Sun News Today: Lakota woman's death remains unresolved years later

Family wants justice for murdered Oglala woman
By Richie Richards
Native Sun News Today Correspondent

PIERRE – Family members of Jessie Renae Waters, who was found deceased on April 30, 2015, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation want answers for her death.

Duane Benson, Waters’ boyfriend at the time, was sentenced to fifty-seven months in April, 2016 for burning down the home he shared with her in Oglala, South Dakota. He pled guilty in this case in federal court and has been serving time for arson. Her pets were still inside the home at the time the mobile home was set ablaze.

The guilty plea was part of a plea bargain in which Benson was to be sentenced to seven years in federal prison for the burning down of the couple’s home. According to her family, he is set to be released in August 8, 2019. They are hoping the investigation continues and that the alleged killer is held accountable for their actions.

On April 7, 2015 (three weeks before her death), Jessie Waters had filed for a temporary protection order through the Oglala Sioux Tribal Court against Benson. They had lived together at the time. This protection order had been granted and the family admits it had been disregarded by both Waters and Benson as they had continued to live together and be seen in public with one another.

Although not charged for the death of Waters, her family has suspected Benson of being responsible for her death. As he is set to be released from prison in just over a year, the Waters family is afraid that he will be getting off “Scott free” for what they consider to be the murder of their loved one.

Jessie Renae Waters, 1984-2015.

The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s movement has been at the forefront of local and national attention lately, as tribal members around the country and Canada are ramping up their efforts to getting attention for the missing and murdered women living on and off the tribal territories. Marches and rallies are being held and led by and attended by survivors and victims’ families.

In the case of Jessie Waters, there was documented abuse by the hands of Duane Benson during their year-long relationship. Her lifeless body was found over a hill off of US Highway 18 near Oglala on April 30, 2015. The family had learned the two had been drinking together near the time of her death. She was several months pregnant when she died.

No nearly three years later and the family has not had closure in her case. The hill where her body was found overlooks her final resting place. The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is nearly 3,500 square miles and is largely made up of isolated prairie lands and rolling hills throughout.

High brush and empty fire roads are scattered throughout the reservation. The lands make finding or locating bodies of deceased or missing persons difficult.

Duane Benson is due to be released from federal prison in August 2019. Though he admitted he set fire to the home of Jessie Waters on the Pine Ridge Reservation, he has not been charged in connection with her death or that of her unborn child.

The mission of the MMIW movement has been to bring justice and help locate by conducting searches for tribal members. Raymond Waters, Jessie’s father, and other family members have participated in these rallies to bring justice for her.

Jessie Waters’ family hopes that the recent attention received by the rallies and marches calling for justice and assistance from law enforcement and the judicial system will help in her case as well. They don’t want her story to fade into history as the years continue to mount and push justice further and further away.

The unborn child of Waters was placed in her arms in the casket during the wake and funeral. The family had wanted everyone to see what had been done. They did not want to hide the cruelty of the alleged act which occurred to her at the time of her death.

One family member told Native Sun News Today that the family has not given up on pursuing justice. They cannot afford a high-priced lawyer, so they are dependent upon investigators and law enforcement to continue searching for answers; this as other more recent cases take precedent over older cases.

Databases are continuing to be developed in the cases of missing and murdered indigenous persons from across the country. Locally, others are working on databases for tribal members in South Dakota to track the history and progress of these cases, including MMIW He Sapa based in Rapid City who are hoping to bring stakeholders together to create such a database.

The family of any victim of murder or alleged murder has a constant void in their lives. That void is caused by the missing or murdered loved one, but also by the void in action for justice. The days become months and eventually turns to years when waiting for an update from investigators or law enforcement for these families. Each time the subject is brought to their attention, they feel re-victimized, according to her family.

“I was wanting to keep her story on the front burner, so no one forgets her story or the crime that was committed against her. How can someone murder her and get away with it,” Tiffany Waters told NSNT.

Tiffany Waters had wanted help in being pointed in a direction for someone who could help and continue to get her story told. She looks to state leaders in both the Native and non-Native communities to help get her sister’s alleged killer held accountable.


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