Trial Begins for Man Accused of Killing Children

Trial Begins for Man Accused of Killing Children

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The trial of a man accused of killing his two young children began Tuesday in U.S. District Court, with a defense attorney saying his client killed the kids but isn't guilty of first-degree murder.

Anderson Black, 29, is accused of slitting the children's throats in a drunken rage at his parents' home on the Navajo Reservation in Monument Valley, Utah.

Dokota Ironhawk Black, 3, and Nicole Gentlehawk Black, just one week from her second birthday, were found on the kitchen floor of their grandparents' home on Sept. 28, 2000.

"Mr. Black stands before you today admitting what he did on the night of Sept. 28, 2000, as inexplicable as it may seem," defense attorney Michael Sikora said in his brief opening statement.

Sikora argued that Black suffered from a "diminished capacity" on the night he killed his children, which makes him ineligible for a conviction of first-degree murder.

A defense expert will testify that Black has an extensive history of mental illness that, when combined with his blood alcohol level of nearly 21/2 times the legal limit, affected his ability to fully understand his actions, Sikora said.

Sikora will ask jurors to find Black guilty of second-degree murder. If so, Black will face a maximum, rather than a minimum, sentence of life in prison. Black does not face the death penalty, the maximum punishment for first-degree murder under federal law, because the Navajo Nation has not adopted capital punishment.

Anderson also faces one count of assault with intent to murder and one count of assault resulting in serious bodily injury.

On Tuesday, the eight-man, six-woman jury heard emotional testimony from the children's mother, Jennifer Atene.

Atene testified her common-law husband of five years was "slightly intoxicated" and angry when he came home late that night. When Atene refused to make Black a fresh dinner, telling him his first meal was waiting for him on the stove, Atene said her husband became angrier and began hitting her.

After Atene fled the home, Assistant U.S. Attorney Felice Viti told jurors that Black's niece placed herself between her uncle and the children, standing with her arms outstretched.

Black raised the knife and sliced his niece's left cheek, Viti said. Viti said Black then grabbed his children one by one, slitting their throats.

He reportedly fled the home, but later returned to his children. When police arrived, they found Black lying on the floor between the bodies of his son and daughter, Viti said.

The trial before U.S. District Judge David K. Winder is scheduled to last 10 days. Black's niece, the only eyewitness to the murders, is expected to testify Wednesday or Thursday.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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