61°F
weather icon Mostly Cloudy

Supreme Court hears arguments in Chasing Horse sexual assault case

The Nevada Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Wednesday in public defenders’ push for the high court to dismiss charges against Nathan Chasing Horse, an alleged cult leader accused of sexual assault.

Chasing Horse was indicted in February on charges including sexual assault, sexual assault against a minor, kidnapping of a minor and lewdness. Public defenders have since filed a petition to the state Supreme Court, arguing that the indictment should be dismissed because prosecutors failed to present exculpatory evidence and improperly gave instructions to the grand jury.

Police arrested Chasing Horse, 47, on Jan. 31 after law enforcement raided his North Las Vegas home where he lived with up to six women he viewed as wives. Two women in Clark County have told police they met Chasing Horse as girls at Native American ceremonies and that they were raped by him when they were teenagers, according to an arrest report.

Chasing Horse has been accused of committing crimes cross the United States and Canada while operating a cult known as The Circle. He is also known for playing Smiles a Lot in the 1990 Kevin Costner film “Dances With Wolves.”

One of the women who came forward to police, and who formerly lived with Chasing Horse as his wife, has testified that Chasing Horse raped her when she was 14 and then told her to continue having sex with him so that he could heal her mother’s cancer. She has testified that she felt like she could not say no to Chasing Horse, and she accused him of grooming her when she was a child.

Chief Deputy Public Defender Kristy Holston argued in front of the Supreme Court on Wednesday that prosecutors presented an instruction to the grand jury that included the definition of grooming, although prior cases have called for expert testimony to define the term.

Holston called the instructions on the definition of grooming “prejudicial” and “inappropriate,” and said it led to the grand jury finding probable cause for Chasing Horse to be indicted.

“It seems somewhat indefensible to me that this instruction was given,” Justice Douglas Herndon said during the hearing.

Conflicting statements alleged

Chief Deputy District Attorney William Rowles argued that even if the Supreme Court finds that the instruction was inappropriate, a District Court judge was still correct to not dismiss all of the charges against Chasing Horse.

Holston also argued that one of the women made conflicting statements about the nature of her relationship with Chasing Horse that called into question whether she consented to having sex with him. She has previously argued that the woman had “transactional” sex with Chasing Horse starting when she was 14, in exchange for her mother’s health.

She told the Supreme Court justices that the case has wider implications, and risks conflicting with Nevada’s legal definition of sexual assault.

“Allowing such vague, intangible concerns to invalidate consent risks making it hard to tell what conduct is actually criminalized under our sexual assault statute,” Holston said. “It also risks over criminalizing sex, because these concepts are impossibly broad and varied under the state’s theory.”

Rowles argued that the issues being raised by the defense should be decided by a jury during trial.

“Mr. Chasing Horse is asking you to make a judgment call at this stage of the proceedings,” Rowles said. “Whether consent is a question of fact should be up to the trier of fact.”

Chasing Horse also faces charges of sexual exploitation of children and possession of child pornography in federal court, and warrants charging him with sexual assault were issued earlier this year by the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Montana and by Canadian authorities.

The Supreme Court justices did not indicate when they would rule on the public defenders’ petition.

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
THE LATEST