Trial of Arlo Looking Cloud
MR. MANDEL: United States would call Nate Merrick, Your Honor.
NATE MERRICK, called as a witness, being first duly sworn, testified and said as follows:
DIRECT EXAMINATION BY MR. MANDEL:
Q. Good afternoon, sir, could you state your name, please?
A. My name is Nathan Merrick.
Q. Mr. Merrick, where do you live these days?
A. I live in Walthill, Nebraska.
Q. What do you do down there?
A. I work for the Tribal Court, Omaha Tribal Court, I am a
public defender, paralegal.
Q. Back in 1975 were you employed on the Pine Ridge Indian
A. Yes, sir, I was.
Q. When did you start working there?
A. I arrived at Pine Ridge in 1973 just during the Wounded
Knee occupation. I was a police officer assigned there for
the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Q. Was that your first assignment?
A. No, just prior to that I was in Crow Creek at Fort
Thompson, South Dakota in 1972.
Q. Was that your first law enforcement job?
A. No. In 1969 I was a Tribal police officer for the Omaha
Tribe in Nebraska, so I kind of moved into the Dakotas in the
Q. In February of 1976 were you still there working for the
BIA on Pine Ridge?
A. Yes, I was.
Q. Did there come a time when you became involved in a
death investigation that occurred out on the Roger Amiotte
ranch south of Kadoka and east of Wanblee?
A. Yes, I was a criminal investigator for the BIA.
Q. Can you tell us how you got the call on that, what
happened, how you got involved in it, sir?
A. On, I can't recall exactly the day, but I remember that
it was a very sort of a warm day in February, and I was
notified by the police department through the radio dispatch
that investigators were needed, and the FBI was needed out
near the Amiotte ranch toward Wanblee and Kadoka, in that area.
Q. How come both the criminal investigators and FBI would
respond to something of that nature?
A. Any time a body was found or there was a need to, for an
investigation, they always send for BIA criminal investigators
and the FBI to conduct the investigation.
Q. Do you recall what you observed when you arrived there?
A. Yes, it was, like I said, kind of a warm day for
February, and about sixty to seventy yards west of the highway
between Kadoka and Wanblee we were told that there was a body
down in a ravine, laying down in a ravine, and it appeared to
be a female.
Q. What did you do then, sir?
A. We went, walked to the scene and we conducted a crime
scene investigation, but I went and took some pictures and
observed the area, and we picked up a little evidence.
Q. Can you tell us what evidence you collected there at the
scene that you recall?
A. I specifically remember we were picking up pieces of
hair strands off of the bank of the ravine. It was about like
an eighteen foot ravine, it was kind of high, but along the
edge of the bank there was strands of hair, I remember
collecting that. Also taking a picture.
Q. Pictures you said, did you take 35 millimeter pictures,
or Polaroids, or what?
A. Yes, I took 35 millimeter pictures and I also took
(Exhibit 5 marked For identification.)
BY MR. MANDEL:
Q. Sir, I am going to draw your attention first to what has
been marked Exhibit No. 5, do you recognize that photograph?
A. Yes, I recognize it.
Q. Can you tell us what is shown in that photograph?
A. This is a picture of a arm with a bracelet, an Indian
type silver bracelet with a turquoise stone in the middle of
it, and appears to be the right arm of the body of an unknown
Q. Is that a photograph that was taken at the crime scene that day?
A. Yes, it was.
Q. Do you recall you are the individual that took that photograph?
Q. Does that accurately show that as you saw it?
Q. And that one is a Polaroid photograph you said?
A. Yes, it's a Polaroid.
(Exhibit 23 marked For identification.)
Q. I ask you also to look at Exhibit No. 23 if you could.
Do you recognize that photograph, Mr. Merrick?
Q. Can you tell us about that photograph and how, when and
how that was taken?
A. It is the same picture of the same individual, same
person, same bracelet, same hand, same arm that I just
described in the other picture.
Q. Was that a photograph that you also took on that day?
Q. Does that accurately show things as they appeared at that time?
A. Yes, they do.
(Exhibit 28 marked For identification.)
Q. Finally, sir, I am going to ask you to look at what has
been marked Exhibit No. 28. Do you recognize that photograph?
Q. Can you tell us what is shown in that photograph?
A. It is a photograph of a decomposed body of an Indian,
appears to be a female with black hair with sort of a red
light jacket with a white colored blouse, bluejeans, lady
Q. Is that also a photograph that you took on that date?
A. Yes, it is.
Q. Does that accurately show things as they were at that time, sir?
MR. MANDEL: Your Honor, at this time I would offer
Exhibits number 5 and 23. I am going to reserve my offer on 28.
MR. RENSCH: No objection.
THE COURT: Exhibits 5 and 23 are received.
MR. MANDEL: May I publish those, Your Honor?
THE COURT: You may.
BY MR. MANDEL:
Q. Mr. Merrick, can you see that on the screen just to your right?
A. Yes, I do.
Q. Can you tell me why you particularly took that
photograph on that date?
A. The reason was because the bracelet was something that I
thought that somebody might be able to recognize, because we
obviously had a person who wasn't identified. That's the
reason I took the picture of that bracelet.
Q. When you were there at the scene, can you describe
generally what the condition of the body was?
A. It was dark in color, and decomposed, and like the body
had been there for some time, that's how I can describe it best.
Q. Did you feel from what you saw at that time that the
face was recognizable?
A. No. I couldn't recognize the face. It was all dark and
disfigured, so it was deteriorating.
Q. What action was taken at the scene then in terms of
removing the evidence and removing the body?
A. At that time the body was taken out of the ravine and I
believe transported by the ambulance service. We didn't take
any of the clothing at that time, all that was taken to Pine
Ridge to the hospital where the morgue was. We didn't take
anything at that time, just except the pictures, and then did
a crime scene.
Q. By doing a crime scene, what would that entail?
A. Well, mostly photographs, and then at that time just
trying to collect any evidence, or see if there was any
evidence on the area above the ravine. And the only thing we
found was that hair, and was looking for tracks, but we
couldn't find any tracks because of the condition of the
ground and everything, and probably been there for some time.
So we were not able to. And I did take some measurements from
the highway to the location of the body, and I did a small sketch.
Q. Mr. Merrick, as criminal investigator on the scene did
you have any idea what the cause of death was at that time?
A. At that time looking at the body and the way the
condition was, general consensus was that she probably was
murdered or killed by someone. There was blood underneath of
her head. The hair coming from the side of the ravine. And I
just felt that somebody threw her down in the ditch, down into
Q. Was there any evidence collected at the scene other than
the hair that supported that?
A. Not that I can recollect.
Q. Was there any evidence of any guns being discharged there?
A. We couldn't find any evidence of that.
Q. Did you search for such evidence?
A. We looked around the area as thoroughly as I thought we
could, but I couldn't see any evidence of that, any guns, no.
Q. So what was the next action that was taken in order to
further this investigation?
A. The body was transported back to Pine Ridge, and then we
met with our, my supervisors, and then there was plans being
made for an autopsy. That was the next thing that I remember
being involved with.
Q. Was there a pathologist there in Pine Ridge?
A. At that time the Bureau of Indian Affairs law
enforcement, I believe we had the services of a Dr. Brown from
Scotts Bluff, a pathologist who came regularly to conduct
autopsies for us.
Q. Was he summoned to come up there and perform that autopsy?
A. Yes, he was.
Q. Were you present during any part of that autopsy?
A. When the autopsy began I was present. When Dr. Brown
arrived and went into the autopsy room, I was present in there then.
Q. Sir, can you describe as best you remember who else was present?
A. It's been a lot of years ago, and the best I can
remember, it was an FBI agent and I think maybe two FBI agents
and myself. I can't remember any more than that.
Q. Were you there then when the autopsy proceeded, sir?
A. When the autopsy first started I was in the room, yes.
Q. Did you leave the room at some point?
A. Yes, after we got into the room and the smell and the
stench of everything was overcoming to me, and I didn't stay
in there very long. I walked out of the autopsy room.
Q. Do you recall did anybody staying there other than the doctor?
A. I recall that when I walked out, others walked out with
me, the other FBI agents. We just walked out in the hall
because the stench and everything was really overcoming to me.
Q. Was there some problem with the equipment that day in
terms of doing everything that needed to be done at the autopsy?
A. Just prior to the autopsy I spoke with, I don't recall
names, but there was a young lady, a white lady who worked as
like an X-ray technician that worked there at the IHS
hospital, and I specifically asked if they could do an X-ray.
MR. RENSCH: Objection, hearsay.
THE COURT: No hearsay yet, but I suspect we are
getting to hearsay. So we will see. But not yet. So the
objection is overruled at this point. Go ahead.
BY MR. MANDEL:
Q. Was it possible to do an X-ray that day?
Q. Why was that?
A. I was told the machine was broke. X-ray machine.
Q. So no X-ray was performed at that initial autopsy?
Q. What took place after the autopsy, sir?
A. Right after the autopsy there was discussion about the
identification and what could be done to determine
identification, what could we do at that time. We talked about that.
Q. Do you remember who was involved in that discussion?
A. Another FBI agent, maybe two FBI agents and myself.
Q. Was the doctor involved in that at all, sir?
A. I think the doctor was standing by waiting for
instructions from us.
Q. Was some decision reached as to an action to take to
effect the identification?
Q. Do you know who made that decision?
A. The actual decision to do that was kind of a joint
agreement between all of the investigators that were there,
the FBI and myself. We decided that we should take the hands
from the corpse so that we can try to get some identification.
Q. Was that a procedure you were familiar with?
A. Yes. At that time that was probably the only way that
we were going to be able to find some identification through
Q. Was there some reason that the hands couldn't be
A. Yes, that was part of the discussion. The hands were so
shriveled up, black, they were like shriveled up, dried up, no
possible way we could take fingerprints then, they would have
to be done in a laboratory or something.
Q. Did the doctor then remove the hands from the body?
A. At our request he did.
Q. Then what was done with them?
A. They were placed in a jar with like I believe it was
formaldehyde or something, and I took the jar.
Q. What did you do with them then?
A. He gave the jar to me, and then I in turn handed it off
to an FBI agent, and that was their person there that day for
him to see if he could get it to a laboratory for identification purposes.
Q. After the, you know that agent's name, sir?
A. Yes, I believe.
Q. Who would that have been?
A. It was Don Dealing.
Q. After that action was taken, then what happened
regarding the body, sir?
A. Repeat that question again?
Q. What did they do with the body after the autopsy, if you know?
A. That day after the autopsy was over I had an emergency
back in Nebraska, so I left the next day. As far as I knew
from my recollection was when I left that day that body was
still there at the hospital.
Q. It was with the intentions to keep it there until the
identification was made?
Q. Is that what in fact happened, if you know?
A. I left for several days for an emergency home visit. I
live in Nebraska down about five hundred miles away. And then
I came back to the reservation at Pine Ridge about a week
later, so a lot of things did transpire while I was gone that
I wasn't aware of.
Q. Were you involved with the investigation of this case
further on after the body had been identified?
A. After that I believe the FBI took the major role in
conducting further investigation in to it, but that was all of
it, I did that time.
Q. That pretty much the end of it for you?
MR. MANDEL: No further questions, thank you.
THE COURT: Cross examination.
MR. RENSCH: Thank you, Your Honor.
CROSS EXAMINATION BY MR. RENSCH:
Q. Good afternoon, sir.
A. Yes, sir.
Q. You have a pretty good recollection of all this?
A. It's been a lot of years, I have some recollection of it, yes.
Q. You find that through the years you forget some of it?
A. That's possible.
Q. What does it mean when you process a crime scene?
A. It means we look for evidence and we document everything
that we see.
Q. You look for clues to try to figure out what happened,
don't you, sir?
Q. And you looked for clues to try to figure out what
happened in the immediate vicinity of this body, didn't you, sir?
Q. You actually, did you actually help move the body, turn
it over to take the photograph of the hand?
A. Did I actually move the body?
A. No, I didn't.
Q. Who moved the body so that the photograph of the hand
could be taken?
A. I believe it was -- see there were police officers at
the scene, too. I believe that they are the ones that sort of
moved the body over so I could get the picture.
Q. You didn't just let anybody who wanted to come in to
that area where the body was, did you, sir?
Q. Why not?
A. Because it was basically a crime scene.
Q. Why would it be important to keep people out of a crime scene?
A. So that we can retain, or find evidence and keep it.
Q. You wouldn't want people walking around that body
because they might step on something, or cover it up, or
change it so that the evidence wouldn't be preserved, would
Q. Did you examine the area, the immediate ground around
Q. Did you note anything unusual about the ground around
A. Nothing unusual, no.
Q. You didn't find any bullet holes?
Q. You didn't find any ricochet marks or anything like
that, did you, sir?
Q. You didn't find any rope any place?
Q. These strands of hair, where did you find the strands of hair?
A. As I said, right off the embankment, coming off the
embankment, about halfway down the embankment.
Q. So they were about halfway down the embankment laying on
the dirt there?
A. They were like hanging down, you know, they were just.
Q. Did you ever try to get a metal detector out there to
see if you could detect any metal?
A. I never had a metal detector.
Q. You didn't find anything up above because it was grassy
up there, isn't that so, sir?
A. Well, how do you describe grassy, what do you mean?
Q. Well, there was grass up there, so there weren't foot
prints up there?
A. Well, there was sort of grass up there, but there was
ground. I don't know what you describe the ground like unless
you have been out there. It wasn't all full of grass, it was
dirt there. Dirt ground.
Q. And the ravine that this poor woman fell in to, that
wasn't full of vegetation, was it, sir?
Q. It was dry dirt down there, wasn't it?
A. Yes, appeared to be.
Q. What color was the dirt?
A. Sort of brownish. Brownish colors, you know, different
shades of brown.
Q. Would you say light colored dirt?
A. It's possible it could have been light, different just
colors of dirt.
(Exhibits A - E marked For identification.)
Q. I show you Defendant Exhibits A through E, these are
blow ups of photographs you took. Look at them and tell us if
A. Are these Polaroid pictures?
Q. I don't know.
A. I can't tell if they are Polaroid or not. I know I took Polaroid and 35 millimeter, but I did take pictures of the body like this, yes.
Q. So that would fairly and accurately depict the scene that were you attempting to preserve by taking those photographs, would you agree, sir?
MR. RENSCH: I move admission of Defendant's Exhibits A through E, Your Honor.
MR. MANDEL: May I see them?
MR. RENSCH: Yes.
MR. MANDEL: No objection.
THE COURT: Exhibits A through E are received. BY MR. RENSCH:
Q. How far out from around the body did you look for evidence?
A. Probably maybe around the entire area. Quite a ways. We went, if I remember, it was like we did a kind of a walking grid search all around on the upper part, about from there to the highway back and forth numerous times like in a pathway trying to find something that might be evidence from the highway to where the edge of the ravine was.
Q. How about down in the ravine itself, did you likewise search the area of the ravine?
A. Yes, I think I and some investigators looked around that entire area, around the body, and trying to find anything that we could.
MR. RENSCH: Nothing further, thank you.
THE COURT: Redirect.
REDIRECT EXAMINATION BY MR. MANDEL:
Q. Just so I am clear, Mr. Merri?k. You examined the scene both at the top of that Bad Lands wall there and at the bottom where the body was found, correct?
A. Yes, I went up to the top and I looked down and I looked down, I looked up, I looked as much as I could.
Q. The body wasn't discovered until February 24th, is that correct, sir?
A. Yes. Right in that neighborhood, yes.
Q. Here is my question. Is it possible as you are up on the road there on Highway 73 to see that body from the road anywhere?
Q. Where would you have to be to see it?
A. You would have to be on the opposite side of the ravine, or up in a high upper area to be able to look down toward it. You wouldn't be able to see it from the highway, no.
Q. Is it a fairly remote location?
MR. MANDEL: Nothing further, Your Honor.
THE COURT: Anything further?
MR. RENSCH: Nothing further.
THE COURT: Thank you, you may step down. Well, is your next witness a shorted one or a long one.
MR. MANDEL: I have one that is, be pretty short, Your Honor.