LANDER, Wyo. (AP) — After a hearing that saw a man plead guilty to shooting two American Indians at a reservation border town this summer, Indians and non-Indians alike said they see the need for better communication and cultural understanding.
Roy Clyde, 32, pleaded guilty Thursday to murder and attempted murder in the July 18 shootings of two men, both members of the Northern Arapaho Tribe.
Clyde faces life in prison with no possibility of parole under a plea agreement that spares him the death penalty. He is a former parks worker for the city of Riverton, a town in in central Wyoming on the border of the Wind River Indian Reservation.
Clyde admitted in court on Thursday that he shot and killed 29-year-old Stallone Trosper and wounded 50-year-old James "Sonny" Goggles at a Riverton detox center in July.
The shootings have outraged tribal leaders, who have demanded a federal hate crimes investigation.
Clyde further upset victims' relatives on Thursday when, under the questioning of his lawyer, he said he was targeting transients regardless of their race — not specifically hunting American Indians.
Despite Clyde's denial, victims' relatives said after the hearing that they strongly believe Clyde targeted the men because they were American Indians. Clyde faces a sentencing hearing in coming weeks at which he's assured of receiving life in prison without parole.
Clyde's rampage capped years of increasing tensions between the Wind River Indian Reservation — home to both the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes — and the predominantly non-Indian population in Riverton and surrounding Fremont County.
In recent years, tribal members achieved a greater say in local government by winning a federal lawsuit that ended at-large voting for county commissioners. Fremont County opposed the lawsuit.
More recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declared Riverton itself remains legally Indian Country. Acting on a request by the tribes to be treated as separate entities under the Clean Air Act, the EPA said Riverton was never formally removed from the Wind River Indian Reservation. The state and local governments are bitterly contesting its findings in court.
Riverton lawyer John Vincent served as mayor of the city from 2003 to 2011. He supported proposed agreements that called for the city to negotiate rather than litigate differences with the tribes. The agreements died in the face of stiff opposition from non-Indians.
Vincent on Thursday said opposition to the agreements from non-Indians created "a tremendously distressful and damaging public discourse" that resulted in Indians withdrawing the proposed agreements. He said that opposition, as well as countless lawsuits pitting Indians against non-Indians on issues such as water rights, gambling and taxation issues, all have served to create a belligerent attitude that has rubbed off on the community.
"I don't know why Mr. Clyde did what he did. It's a horrible thing," Vincent said. "But I know we can do better as societies by meeting and conferring with people and resolving disputes peacefully and outside of a courtroom rather than slugging it out."
James Trosper, Stallone Trosper's uncle, addressed reporters after the court hearing. He said he believes the shootings were racially motivated.
"One of the things that would probably really help people would be a have a better understanding of our culture, where we come from and who we are," Trosper said.
"We're not leaving, we're not going anywhere," Trosper said, noting that Indians have lived in the area for thousands of years. "So it's important for people to understand and be educated about who we are as peoples."
Riverton Police Chief Mike Broadhead said this week he believes the community has entered a period of calm after the shootings. His department is reviewing candidates for the newly created position of community relations ombudsman, which he said will handle complaints about the treatment of American Indians.
City and tribal leaders have announced three community meetings in October and November to discuss racial issues and areas for improving understanding.