RAPID CITY, S.D. - Despite James Robert Dowty's claim of innocence, a nonviolent past and love for his two young daughters, Judge Jeffrey Viken said Monday that he deserves punishment for a killing that created such "unspeakable loss."
The federal judge sentenced the Pine Ridge man to 30 years in federal prison on Dec. 17 for the 2016 murder of a 13-year-old girl on the Pine Ridge reservation.
Dowty will serve 20 years for second-degree murder — less than the maximum sentence of life in prison — and 10 years for firing a gun while committing an act of violence, the mandatory minimum. Federal law requires that he serve the sentences consecutively — or one after the other — for a total of 30 years.
In May 2017, a jury found Dowty guilty of murdering Te'Ca Clifford after her friends said he shot her while they were walking in the early morning in Pine Ridge.
Dowty tried to overturn the verdict and ask for a new trial earlier this year, but Viken rejected both requests.
Before the sentencing, James Dowty Sr. repeatedly called his son an innocent man who is "not capable" of killing anyone.
He called his son the "best dad in the world" to his daughters, who tightly held on to each other as they sat in the audience. He cried as he explained how he and his granddaughters visit his son at the Pennington County Jail every evening.
James Dowty Sr. vowed to appeal his son's case, claiming evidence against him was ignored — such as his daughters saying their father was home at the time of the shooting — and said he knows "who really" killed Clifford.
A recess was called after Dowty's lawyer, Jennifer Albertson, started to cry as she began to speak. Twenty minutes later, she was still in tears when she asked Viken to sentence her client to less than the sentencing guidelines of 19.6 to 24.4 years for the murder charge.
Albertson called Dowty "the kindest client" she's ever had, and a man who struggled with methamphetamine but was never violent. She said he didn't fight back when a beating in jail left him with black eyes and a broken nose.
"My kids need me," said Dowty, adding he can't imagine losing his children like Clifford's family lost Te'Ca and hopes the real killer is found.
Christine Medicine Red Kettle, Clifford's maternal grandmother, spoke of a difficult three years with a granddaughter dying by suicide, the murder of Clifford, and the death of Clifford's mother, whom she said cried every day after losing her daughter.
Frankee White Dress, Clifford's paternal grandmother, said her son also died soon after Clifford's killing. She attributed his death to a broken heart and said she struggled to get out of bed for two years after losing her granddaughter.
White Dress described her granddaughter as a carefree girl who loved to play basketball.
Eric Kelderman, assistant U.S. attorney, said there is "no doubt" Dowty is guilty of a "reckless crime" that cut short a "beautiful young life."
He said Dowty deserves 30 years in prison to send a message against gun violence and because he denies taking responsibility for the killing.
Speaking outside the courthouse, Red Kettle said she was "satisfied" with the sentence though she believes Dowty may have deserved more time.
White Dress said the court trial convinced her that Dowty was guilty. Still, she said she feels bad for his father, who was her friend growing up.
James Dowty Sr. has another son who is already in prison after pleading guilty to second-degree manslaughter.