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An enrolled member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate tribe was convicted last week of voluntary manslaughter in a three-decades-old cold case on the Lake Traverse Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

Jay Adams, 58, was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay a $50 special assessment to the Federal Crime Victims Fund.  

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In 1992, Adams, his three children, his girlfriend, and her 23-month-old daughter were living in his parent’s home on the Lake Traverse Indian Reservation in Roberts County, S.D. After working a night shift as a dispatcher for the Sisseton Wahpeton Tribal Police Department, he returned home to find everyone in the residence asleep. Upon checking on the children, he discovered the 23-month-old had soiled her diaper and bedding. He reacted violently, slamming her on the ground and striking her head on the cement floor. An autopsy report later revealed evidence of forceful blows to her abdomen. Adams did not render aid or call 911; instead, he placed her back into bed.

He checked on the toddler the next morning, finding her deceased, and immediately called out for help. Adams and the victim’s mother performed CPR until emergency responders arrived to transport her to an area hospital, where she was pronounced dead. Her cause of death was determined to be blunt force trauma.

Adams maintained that he awoke to find the victim not breathing.

In early 2023, a witness came forward and identified Adams as being responsible for the girl’s death.

Law enforcement officers from the Sisseton-Wahpeton Tribal Police Department and the FBI continued the investigation, conducting interviews with individuals associated with Adams an consulting with a pathologist to review the 1992 autopsy report. Adams indited in April 2023 and eventually pleaded guilty in November of that year.

“Tragically, this matter took thirty years to resolve,” said U.S. Attorney Alison J. Ramsdell in a statement. “But the resolution nonetheless demonstrates law enforcement’s relentless commitment to cracking these cases so that perpetrators can be held to account. It is our hope the Defendant’s sentence offers some measure of closure to the victim’s family.”

The case was prosecuted by Missing or Murdered Indigenous Persons (MMIP) Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Great Plains Region Troy R. Morley, as a part of the Department of Justice’s Missing or Murdered MMIP Regional Outreach Program. Launched in 2023, the program permanently places ten attorneys and coordinators in five designated regions across the United States to aid in the prevention and response to missing or murdered Indigenous people.

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About The Author
Author: Elyse WildEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Elyse Wild is senior editor for Native News Online and Tribal Business News.