By Tim Huether
Just over two long years since they were arrested for the murder of Moses Red Bear, Daniel Ceplecha, 58, and his son, Rangler Ceplecha, 24, of Martin, were sentenced to Life in Prison with no possibility of parole in the South Dakota State Penitentiary by Sixth Circuit Court Judge Bobbi Rank, November 30, in Martin.
After comments from the defense attorneys, the states attorney, family of Red Bear, Judge Rank and the Ceplechas themselves, Rank read the sentence to a rousing of cheer from the Red Bear family and friends.
Rank informed Dan and Rangler they have 30 days from when the sentencing is filed to appeal.
In addition to the sentencing, they were ordered each to pay restitution of $14,933.23, $104 court costs plus attorney fees, which are yet to be determined.
Daniel was ordered to pay $3,563.18 in investigator fees.
Rangler has been ordered to pay $2,345.48 in investigator fees and $7,100 for psychological evaluation.
The Sentencing hearing began with Judge Rank pointing out that sentencing was moved back because there was a claim on September 8 by a former inmate in the Winner jail that the defendants tried to hire him to take out some people associated with the case. The matter was disclosed with counsel and on Sept. 24, there was a hearing held on that matter. An investigation was completed and the state did not ask the court to consider the allegations so Rank said the court will completely disregard any of those allegations for the sentencing since there was no evidence supporting the allegation.
Rangler Ceplecha’s attorney, Bradley Borge, stated some facts in the case were not in dispute, such as the shooting, removal of body, etc., but he argued, what is disputed is what happened leading up to the shooting. Borge tried to argue there was the possibility of self-defense, that Rangler thought Red Bear was going to shoot his dad. He also argued Wiley Yellow Hawk was inconsistent in his statements about what happened.
“Unfortunately, they tried to cover it up once they found out a gun wasn’t fired by Red Bear,” said Borge. “Just because they tried to cover it up doesn’t mean that is how things happened. Under these circumstances, I don’t think Life in Prison or a substantial amount of time in prison is what it should be.”
Borge argued again he felt Rangler thought his dad was going to be shot and added, “Five to 15 years in prison is what I ask the court to consider.”
John R. Murphy, defense attorney for Dan Ceplecha, said his client admits to causing the death of Moses Red Bear, but tried to convince the judge to factor in that Moses Red Bear was the victim of a violent assault in 2015, not from the Ceplechas, and after that incident, he was not the same person. He then made the claim the Ceplechas were not the same following the death of Dan’s wife, Tina, who was Rangler’s mom, and both went into a downward spiral after her death.
Murphy argued the downward change in the lives of all involved ended in a tragic event and his client regrets that it happened.
“I am asking the court to consider all circumstances and fashion a sentence that gives them both a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Murphy.
Robert Mayer, Deputy Attorney General for the State of South Dakota, addressed the court with a response, “Borge claims there are disputes in the facts in this case. He seems to be claiming Rangler is innocent; he is not. Borge raises this crazy notion of self-defense and it has already been ruled it is not. The facts are, the defendants picked up loaded weapons and fired shots, Dan three and Rangler nine times, to Moses Red Bear’s head, abdomen and chest. Moses is still dead, no matter what their intentions were. We submit the sentence should be Life.”
“Daniel, you are old enough to know better,” stated Mayer loudly. “Rangler, get the message. The message is: this behavior will not be tolerated. Dan and Rangler, you two are a danger to the community. You need to be isolated. You made a lot of people angry.
Mayer pointed out Red Bear had an alcohol content of .36 and said the claim of self-defense is an insult and it was nothing but cold-blooded murder.
“Dan and Rangler, you need to man up!” Mayer continued. “What’s really troubling about this case is that after they kill him, they stuff him in their disgusting van, drive to Fresh Start and stop for nachos, then drive him to a ditch and set him on fire. Moses lost his life over a flashlight and a pocket knife.”
Mayer informed the court that they can’t pay back the Red Bear family but they can pay back society with the rest of their lives.
“The State suggests no grounds for leniency and asks for life or a very substantial number of years,” concluded Mayer.
Three members of the Red Bear family gave public victim impact statements.
Devona Lone Wolf, an aunt of Moses, asked the Ceplechas how they could be so hateful and said she believed both are evil and Godless and told how it had impacted her family.
Sonia Brave Bird, the mother of Moses’ children, told them they took her children’s father and how it has hurt them and the lasting effects it has had on the family.
Pearl Red Bear, Moses’ sister, was unable to read aloud but had Janeen Jackson read a statement prepared by her. She explained how she and her family will never be the same. She said now her family is broken because of what they did. She said she felt the state prosecutors have not done their job and they should have gone to trial. She said she is asking for a sentence that will keep them from hurting anyone else, like Life in Prison without parole.
Dan Ceplecha was then given a chance for a statement, which he gave, saying, “I would like to apologize to the family. It was self-defense. I’m very sorry. If I could give him back to them, I would. I know how it feels to lose a loved one.”
Rangler declined to make a public statement.
Judge Rank then summed up where she was in leading up to the sentencing.
“They had little criminal history and I don’t dispute they lost Dan’s wife, Rangler’s mother and on one hand, they have a clean record and no signs they would do this horrible crime, and on the other hand, they surrounded themselves with dangerous weapons, all over the home, at all times. Daniel believed the police are corrupt liars, an indication he thinks he himself is the victim. Daniel’s attitude is disturbing to the court. “
Rank continued, “Dan admitted he fired three times and Rangler nine and if it had stopped there and they would have said, dear God, what have we done and called the police, this might be a different situation, but this is not. What happened, that took actions that elevated it to an entirely different place. Moses Red Bear did not deserve to die like he did.”
“They did not try to take responsibility,” said Rank. “Their only priority was covering up their crime. Rangler placed Moses, who he considered a good friend, in the ditch. He wasn’t treated like a good friend; he was treated like a piece of trash. These cold blooded actions make this a heinous crime. As far as a claim of self-defense, the court does not need to consider this because actions speak louder than words. A person who committed an act in self-defense would call the police at that time. There are concerns of the court that they could be rehabilitated. I am bothered by the non-acceptance of responsibility... self-defense is not credible.
Rank then sentenced Daniel Ceplecha to Life in Prison at the South Dakota State Penitentiary, then imposed the same sentence on Rangler Ceplecha.
Ceplecha case history:
On Dec. 13, 2016, Rangler and Dan Ceplecha both entered pleas of not guilty to the charges of First Degree Murder, an alternative count of Murder in the Second Degree, and Conspiracy to Commit Murder for the death of Moses Red Bear that occurred on Nov. 12, 2016.
A trial date of Nov. 6-17, 2017 had been set aside for Rangler and Dan Ceplecha. That date was then moved to Feb. 12-23, 2018.
Daniel and Rangler entered pleas of guilty to first degree manslaughter in a plea agreement with the State of South Dakota at a change of plea hearing February 28, 2018 in Martin at the Bennett County Courthouse. Their sentencing date was set for June 6, 2018.
The Ceplechas both took the stand in a hearing Monday, July 16, 2018 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. They had also requested new attorneys, which was denied.
Judge Bobbi Rank ruled that both Daniel and Rangler Ceplecha’s motion to withdraw their earlier pleas of guilty to First Degree Manslaughter was denied and sentencing for the two was set for September 26, 2018.
That date was changed to November 30, when Judge Rank imposed the Life sentence.