By Tim Huether
Daniel Ceplecha and his son Rangler both took the stand in a hearing Monday, July 16, in Martin at the Bennett County Courthouse, stating they were not guilty of the charges brought against them, asking the judge to grant their request to withdraw their pleas of guilty to First Degree Manslaughter.
The Ceplecha’s were charged with first degree murder, second degree murder and conspiracy to commit first degree murder in the death of Moses Red Bear on the morning of Nov. 12, 2016, in Martin. The maximum penalty for the charges is the death penalty or life in prison.
On Feb. 28, 2018, Daniel and Rangler Ceplecha entered pleas of guilty to first degree manslaughter in a plea agreement with the State of South Dakota at a change of plea hearing at the Bennett County Courthouse. Their sentencing date was then set for June 6, 2018.
On May 4, a joint letter was sent and signed by both Ceplechas to the court requesting new council and requested to withdraw their guilty pleas.
At a hearing on June 6, Judge Bobbi Rank heard out the Ceplecha’s reasoning for new council and denied that request, but did not rule on their request to withdraw their plea at that time.
A new hearing was set for July 16, and Judge Rank heard testimony from both Ceplechas but did not rule on the motion to withdraw their pleas at that time.
Judge Rank asked both Daniel and Rangler if they understood that if they are allowed to withdraw their pleas and testify today, portions of their testimony may be used against them at a trial. Both Ceplechas were informed that if they withdraw their pleas, the original charges will stand and if found guilty, each charge is the minimum of life in prison.
Both stated they still wanted to withdraw their pleas of guilty.
Daniel testified first, and was asked by his attorney if he had any prior arrests or any prior contact with law enforcement, to which Dan stated, “just bad check years ago.”
When asked why he felt he wanted to withdraw his plea, Daniel said, “I am not guilty of the charges. I feel the state has made up things and used evidence to make up charges. They did not disclose all the facts. I had not intended to kill him. I gave him a chance to stop.”
Daniel said he physically removed Red Bear from the house and told him not to come back.
“The state only seen what they wanted to see,” said Daniel. “Agent Goble (DCI agent Jeff Goble), if he’s allowed to lie about it, what else did he lie about.”
Daniel’s attorney, John Murphy, asked, “You said you got incorrect advice from your attorney...what were you referring to?”
“You said it was in my best interest to take the pleas, but after thinking about it, it was not. Regardless, I’m getting life either way.”
Murphy referred to Daniel taking a guilty plea out of fear and asked what that meant.
Daniel explained he was told he and Rangler could be together if they reached a plea and was worried that he would not get to see his son again.
“All charges are false...I’m not guilty of murder, conspiracy, manslaughter...I can’t live with myself to plead to something I’m not guilty of.”
“Why did you plead guilty to manslaughter,” asked Murphy.
“So we could be together and possibly get parole,” responded Daniel.
“Is there any other reason why you should be able to withdraw your guilty plea,” asked Murphy.
“The U.S. Constitution says I can have a jury trial by my peers, even though I signed that way to the state,” argued Daniel. “I believe it needs to be on record, the whole case, so everyone knows what happened.”
Ceplecha then read a letter saying he and his son, Rangler, were together in jail for a week, then kept apart for a year, causing him to suffer depression, anxiety and stress. After the plea, they were supposed to be together.
Daniel then said the witness statements were filled with lies, stating the witness was locked in a bathroom, asking how he could see through the door and walls.
“I was protecting my family, my home and the people in my home,” stated Daniel. “If we were guilty today, we would hold up to our end. We are not guilty of the crimes. We want this to be in court in front of our peers.”
Gina Nelson, attorney for the state, then questioned Daniel, saying, in your statements at the plea agreement hearing where you pled guilty to manslaughter, you said you understood the charges, to which Ceplecha said yes; the judge read extensively the charges, to which Daniel said yes; did you say you shot and killed Moses Red Bear?
“I did not say I killed him,” said Daniel.
The states attorney then read his statement which said he caused the death of Red Bear.
“Now, two months after, with you and your son in jail, you decided you were not guilty, right,” questioned Nelson.
“No, I knew I was not guilty,” responded Daniel.
“What did you mean, you gave him a chance to stop,” questioned Nelson.
“He was swinging a gun at me,” answered Daniel.
“That’s the first time you have told the state that,” pointed out Nelson.
“Correct, why would I incriminate myself,” replied Daniel.
“You alleged agent Goble hid evidence,” said Nelson. “Anytime there is an interview it is recorded.”
“Who says he didn’t delete part of it,” responded Daniel.
Judge Rank asked Daniel when he first decided to withdraw his plea and he said, “as soon as I got back to jail. I knew we were not guilty.”
Rangler Ceplecha then took the stand and his attorney asked him questions, starting with his age, which he responded, 23. He was asked what his level of education was and Rangler said he dropped out of school in the ninth grade. When asked if he had any mental health issues, Rangler said no. When asked if he had a criminal history, he responded with just a MIC and a driving without a licence charge.
His attorney asked him if he understood that if he withdraws his plea, he will face the original charges and if he still wished to withdraw his plea and he said yes.
“Why should you be allowed to withdraw your guilty plea,” his lawyer, Brad Borge asked?
“I pled guilty to be with my father,” said Ranger.
“Is there any other reason,” asked Borge?
“I’m not guilty and I can prove I’m not guilty,” said Rangler. “I was afraid if I did not take the deal at this time, I’d never see him again.”
“You admitted to the crime you say you didn’t do to be with your dad,” asked Borge?
“Yes,” he replied. “I was having social anxiety disorders, I couldn’t sleep and my depression got worse after being separated.”
Borge asked Rangler about wanting a new attorney and he said he was given incorrect advice on pleading to manslaughter.
Borge asked Rangler why he decided to request to withdraw his plea now instead of earlier and Rangler said, “it took time to figure it out...we didn’t do it.”
The State questioned Rangler, asking him if the judge read him his rights, read him his right to a trial and if he was satisfied prior to his plea, and Rangler said yes.
“Let’s talk about the factual basis,” said Attorney Nelson, “the court asked if you caused the death of Moses Red Bear and you said yes.”
Rangler said that is correct.
“With all of that, you pled guilty and essentially, you are just saying you are not guilty now,” stated Nelson.
“Yes,” replied Rangler.
Rangler’s attorney asked Rangler if he maintained he was not guilty before entering the plea and he said, yes.
“You never admitted you were guilty up to the plea,” said Borge.
“You asked if I caused his death, I want to clarify, that was in defense of my home.”
Judge Rank said after receiving the briefs the attorney’s may submit, and had a chance to review everything, she would make a decision on the motion to withdraw the guilty pleas.