Juan Ignacio Blanco  


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Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Child abuse
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: June 12, 2013
Date of arrest: June 21, 2013
Date of birth: 1982
Victim profile: Laurynn Carmen Clarah Whiteshield, 2 (her Indian name was Zikana
Ska Win, which means White Bird Woman)
Method of murder: Blunt force trauma to the head
Location: Spirit Lake Indian Reservation, North Dakota, USA
Status: Sentenced to 30 years in prison on November 6, 2013

North Dakota woman sentenced to 30 years in federal prison in toddler death on reservation

November 06, 2013

FARGO, N.D. – A Spirit Lake Indian Reservation woman who was awarded custody of infant twin girls despite a history of child neglect was sentenced Wednesday to 30 years in prison in the death of one of the children, who was thrown down an embankment.

Hope Louise Tomahawk Whiteshield pleaded guilty in July to federal charges of child abuse and witness tampering in the June death of her step-granddaughter, who was just shy of 3 years old.

The case was one of several held up by U.S. authorities to show the ineffectiveness of the Spirit Lake tribe's child protection system. The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs took over control of the tribe's child social services more than a year ago.

An autopsy showed the girl died of a head injury. Authorities said that after the incident, Tomahawk Whiteshield bathed the unresponsive child, dressed her in pajamas and put her to bed. The 32-year-old woman then told other children in her household not to report what happened and went to sleep, prosecutors said.

U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson said that while killing the child was "horrible beyond words," the ensuing cover-up was the deciding factor in sentencing.

"The fact that no one sought help for this child is unfathomable," Erickson said.

Assistant U.S Attorney Janice Morley said Tomahawk Whiteshield had been charged for child neglect offenses eight times in tribal court, including one case in which a 3-year-old was found wandering along a busy highway after Tomahawk Whiteshield forced the child to get out of her vehicle.

Jeanine Kersey-Russell, a foster parent who had custody of the twins for more than a year, said the tribe stepped in and said the girls would be better off staying with family. They were 26 months old when they were placed with Tomahawk Whiteshield, who lived in the town of St. Michael on the North Dakota reservation.

"We will live the rest of our lives wishing there was something we could have done to keep them safe," she testified Wednesday.

Kersey-Russell said the surviving twin talks about her sister often and has a vivid memory of Tomahawk Whiteshield throwing the victim "down in the mud."

Tomahawk Whiteshield declined to speak at the hearing. She wept as defense attorney Richard Henderson argued for a 25-year prison term, and the lawyer placed his hands on her shoulders.

Henderson said his client "knows she is responsible" for the child's death and is "very, very sorry," but that social services should never have left the twins in her care. There were five other children in the household.

Erickson said the tribal agency's role was not a subject for the sentencing hearing.

U.S. Attorney Timothy Purdon said the sentence was appropriate.

"Hopefully the stiff sentence imposed today will provide some measure of justice to her family," Purdon said.


St. Michael woman charged in child’s death

By Blake Nicholson - Associated Press

June 21, 2013

BISMARCK, N.D. — Federal authorities have charged a woman in the death of a toddler on the Spirit Lake Reservation, where the effectiveness of the child protection system has been the subject of debate for more than a year.

Hope Tomahawk Whiteshield, 31, of St. Michael, is charged with child abuse and neglect, a charge that carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum punishment of 20 years upon conviction. She made her initial court appearance on Thursday in U.S. District Court in Grand Forks and has a detention hearing scheduled Monday.

Her court-appointed defense attorney, Ted Sandberg, said she plans to plead not guilty.

Whiteshield is charged in the June 12 or June 13 death of a girl who was a month shy of 3 years old. FBI Special Agent Michael Meyer said in an affidavit that Whiteshield is married to the child's grandfather, Freeman Whiteshield.

Tomahawk Whiteshield is accused of throwing the girl down an embankment by the family's home on June 12, then bathing and clothing the unresponsive child and putting her to bed. The girl was found dead the next morning. An autopsy concluded that she died of a head injury.

"The medical examiner advised the agents that this type of injury would not be caused by normal day to day activities of a child her age, i.e. bumping her head or rolling off her bed," Meyer said in his affidavit.

The agent said that when investigators asked Tomahawk Whiteshield why she had pushed the girl and the girl's twin sister, Tomahawk Whiteshield replied that she "was getting depressed about having kids all the time."

Sandberg declined to comment on the alleged statement.

The two girls had been with a foster family in Bismarck for two years and were transferred back to the reservation about a month before the incident, according to Meyer.

The safety of vulnerable children on the reservation has been questioned for months. The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs took over the tribe's child protection services last October following repeated criticism that the tribe's efforts to stem child abuse and neglect were failing. The criticism began to mount after the May 2011 slaying of a 6-year-old and his 9-year-old sister, who authorities say had been sexually assaulted.

North Dakota's U.S. senators, John Hoeven and Heidi Heitkamp, earlier this week called for quick action by authorities in the death of the St. Michael girl.

U.S. Attorney Timothy Purdon said in a statement that "the protection of children is a top priority for my office, and we are doing everything possible to thoroughly and deliberately investigate this matter."



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