Seven-year prison sentence for Lehi

Towaoc man apologizes for fatal shooting

Keywords: Courts and Crime,

DURANGO - A Towaoc man was sentenced Friday to seven years in federal prison for the shooting death of a man on the Ute Mountain Ute reservation in November of 2011.

Clarence M. Lehi was facing six to eight years in prison after signing a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Durango.

He pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and assault causing serious bodily injury.

He apologized and asked for forgiveness before sentencing.

"I just want to say I'm sorry," he said. "Sorry for everything that I'm going through."

Lehi and witnesses gave inconsistent statements as to what happened, and their stories have changed over time, making it difficult for prosecutors to know exactly what happened.

What is known is that Lehi shot and killed Winslow Big Soldier, 22, on Nov. 5, 2011, at Lehi's house on Mountain Sage Road on the Ute Mountain Ute reservation. He also accidentally shot and injured an 11-year-old boy.

The bad feelings between Lehi and Big Soldier began in April 2011 while the two men were drinking together. Big Soldier assaulted Lehi as they walked down a road together in Towaoc, according to the factual basis in a plea agreement.

Lehi was left unconscious on the side of the road. Later that night, Big Soldier many have returned with a vehicle and drove over Lehi's head, according to the plea agreement.

Big Soldier admitted to assaulting Lehi and leaving him on the side of the road, but he denied running over Lehi with a car.

Lehi was flown to a hospital in Grand Junction. An investigation by the Bureau of Indian Affairs could not determine which injuries were caused by Big Soldier and which injuries were caused by the car. The identities of those in the vehicle remain unknown.

Lehi eventually recovered from his injuries and returned to his home in Towaoc. He warned Big Soldier's wife that if Big Soldier ever stepped foot into his house, he would shoot him.

But on the evening of Nov. 5, 2011, Lehi invited Big Soldier and others into his house to watch TV and drink beer.

Based on some recollections, Big Soldier asked to shake Lehi's hand and apologized for the prior assault. Lehi may have said, "OK, don't worry about that," and then retrieved a rifle from the closet wrapped in a blue blanket and said, "Come here, I have a present for you." He then fired two shots.

Big Soldier fell to the ground, and the 11-year-old boy realized he had also been shot. The boy was apparently shot by accident.

When a BIA officer arrived, he found Big Soldier slumped over in the kitchen in a pool of blood and Lehi sitting on a bed in the living room with a carton of Budweiser beer opened on the floor in front of him.

Lehi claimed he acted in self defense. He fired a warning shot before shooting Big Soldier, he said. He had a blood-alcohol level of 0.22 - nearly three times the legal driving limit of 0.8 in Colorado.

The boy suffered a gunshot wound near his buttocks.

In addition to serving seven years in prison, Lehi will be on supervised release for three years and must pay $3,225.75 in restitution for funeral and travel expenses incurred by the Big Soldier family. He will receive about 15 months credit for time already served.

Virginia Big Soldier, the victim's sister, said Lehi should go to prison for at least 15 years.

"His life is worth more than (six years in prison)," she said.