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Man sentenced in Fort Duchesne killing; state charges on hold

Man sentenced in Fort Duchesne killing; state charges on hold

(Duchesne County Jail)


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FORT DUCHESNE, Uintah County — A Uintah County man who shot and killed a friend on the Uintah-Ouray Indian Reservation in June has been sentenced by a Ute Tribal Court judge to nearly three years behind bars, delaying his prosecution in an unrelated state case.

Tyrell Sowsonicut, 19, was sentenced in late October to 1,080 days in prison and a $5,000 fine for killing Sean Lawrence Checora, according to Checora's grandmother, Annette Miller.

KSL made contact with Miller this week after Ute tribal prosecutor Patrick Boice did not respond to multiple phone calls, emails and text messages requesting information about the case. Tribal court records and proceedings are not open to non-tribal members.

Sowsonicut pleaded guilty to criminal homicide, according to Miller, and is serving his sentence at a detention center in Yuma, Arizona, that has a contract with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. A staffer at the San Luis Regional Detention Center 20 miles south of Yuma confirmed that Sowsonicut is incarcerated at the facility.

Federal investigators say Sowsonicut shot Checora once in the chest on June 14 as the men stood outside a home in Fort Duchesne's Richardson subdivision. Police were initially told Checora, 20, was the victim of a drive-by shooting. They later learned the drive-by shooting story was false and the shooting was accidental, FBI agent Todd Palmer said.

"All evidence gathered at this point appears to indicate (Sowsonicut) and Sean Checora were good friends," Palmer said in June.

At the time Checora was killed, Duchesne County sheriff's deputies were investigating Sowsonicut's alleged role in an actual drive-by shooting in Neola. No one was injured in the May 4 incident, but a pickup truck outside a home near 1000 West and 9000 North was hit by gunfire, according to charging documents.

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Sheriff's detectives interviewed Sowsonicut in jail after he was arrested for killing Checora. He told them he fired as many as six shots at a rival's truck, trying to hit the engine block, the charges state.

Detectives also spoke with a witness who said she was in the car with Sowsonicut. The witness said she was on her phone when Sowsonicut "rolled down the window and stopped in front of a house," charging documents state.

"Tyrell fired his gun out the window a few times and then they drove up Uintah Canyon to the mountains," the charges state.

Sowsonicut was charged Oct. 28 in 8th District Court with discharge of a firearm, a third-degree felony, discharging a firearm from a vehicle, a class B misdemeanor, and criminal mischief, a class B misdemeanor.

After filing the charges, Duchesne County prosecutors told an 8th District judge that Sowsonicut would be in the custody of the Bureau of Indian Affairs for three years. A warrant was issued for Sowsonicut's arrest to ensure his return to Utah upon his release from prison. The judge then issued a stay, putting the case on hold until 2018.

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Geoff Liesik

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