Family, DA recount toll of woman’s death |
The capture of the men involved in Nicole Redhorse’s death didn’t take long — but the legal process? That was a different matter, one that shows the toll exacted on survivors, as well as the strength and support it takes for them to see a case through.
“You have to sit there and endure it,” Redhorse’s father, Ken, said during a recent luncheon honoring crime victims and their families in Montrose.
Ken Redhorse, his wife, Winona, and other family were the honored guests of 7th Judicial District Attorney Dan Hotsenpiller, who handled the retrials of one of the defendants.
Nicole Redhorse, a promising Dartmouth graduate, encountered “predators” in Durango, Hotsenpiller said.
Three men came to Redhorse’s home and took her to a motel, where she was sexually assaulted throughout the night of June 6, 2007 and injured so severely she bled to death early June 7.
“Literally, there were predators in Durango… and they really went after her,” Hotsenpiller said, explaining how, in his view, Harold Nakai, Carlton Yazzie and Derrick Begaye targeted a woman made vulnerable by alcoholism. (Nakai had a previous relationship with Redhorse, according to The Durango Herald’s reports.)
“Yes, she had problems with alcohol, but you have people that prey on people with problems, on a young woman like that,” Ken Redhorse said later.
The case was rife with challenges, Hotsenpiller said, among them, proving consent was not given and which man inflicted the fatal injury.
The defendants were tried separately in Durango, Pueblo and Montrose; the men were not convicted of murder, but of sexual assault, while Nakai also was convicted of criminally negligent homicide.
Then came the appeals, a successful one for Nakai, whose retrial Hotsenpiller handled in Durango as a special prosecutor. The first retrial was continued four times — twice on the eve of trial. At last, in 2016, Nakai was retried.
“That’s the fourth time Ken and Winona have sat in a courtroom multiple days and heard what happened to their daughter,” Hotsenpiller said.
Then the jury hung on sexual assault charges. Despite the 11-1 vote, jurors were affected by the Redhorses and wanted to speak to them.
“That was the most emotional experience I’ve ever had in a jury room,” Hotsenpiller said. “They (the Redhorses) were healing the jurors. Those jurors were damaged too.”
Hotsenpiller retried the case a few months later; again, the Redhorses attended every day. This time, Nakai was convicted of sexual assault charges and later was sentenced to 48 years to life in prison.
Nakai could try to appeal that sentence, too, Hotsenpiller said.
“That’s the reality and I can’t tell them otherwise,” he said.
“The reality is the legal system is difficult to navigate,” he said earlier Wednesday. “Outcomes are uncertain at best.”
During trials the focus isn’t necessarily on victims. “(Constitutionally) defendants’ rights trump everything. … sometimes, victims of crime are victims of the justice system,” the DA said.
“It was good to have someone there … just explaining what was going on. Otherwise, you would be lost,” Winona Redhorse said after the presentation.
Victims’ strength and resilience needs to be spotlighted — and they need to be supported so they can overcome, Hotsenpiller indicated.
“It’s not great lawyering that wins cases. It’s powerful stories that win cases,” he said.
Telling the victims’ stories through the court system begins with the officer on patrol and progresses through all agencies and experts involved, particularly victim advocates.
“It helps us keep victims at the center of our focus,” Hotsenpiller said.
Prior to the enactment of the Victim Rights Act in the 1990s, there was less involvement with victims, recounted Delta County Sheriff Fred McKee.
“When the VRA passed, I was a little bit hesitant. But I really do believe that’s one of the best things to ever happen in the state of Colorado,” he said.
Aimee English, a victim advocate for Hotsenpiller’s office who assisted the Redhorses, praised them while remembering Nicole for her academic accomplishments, love of family and her culture.
“I know she will always remain in your hearts. I am honored to have the opportunity… to have met people so full of courage and grace,” English told the Redhorses.
Ken Redhorse said he and his family were only doing what they had been taught during their lives.
“It’s not like we’re anything special. We’re just trying to cope,” Ken Redhorse said.