Travis D. Ellenwood, who pleaded guilty in October to the beating and strangulation death of his girlfriend, Bessie A. Blackeagle, was given the maximum sentence for second-degree murder in Indian Country at a hearing sentencing Monday in U.S. District Court in Coeur d’Alene.
Ellenwood, 44, was sentenced to 235 months, or nearly 20 years, in federal prison, followed by five years of supervised release. The sentencing, handed down by U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Richard C. Tallman, follows several anguished and emotional appeals from Blackeagle’s family members, who described her as a talented, optimistic person. and a “sparkling light” for the Nez Percé tribe and its relatives. family.
“This crime was committed in a particularly savage and heinous manner and in the close presence of Ellenwood’s minor child,” Tallman said as he handed down his sentence.
The “moving statements on the impact of victims[…]point out that the missing and murdered Indigenous women in this country present a real crisis for the justice system in this country. … Miss Blackeagle cannot be defined as a mere statistic in the (Federal Domestic Violence Database),” Judge said. The sentence was intended to provide a deterrent effect to help other female victims of such crimes feel safe, Tallman said.
According to court records, on October 30, 2020, Ellenwood and Blackeagle dated at a local bar in Kamiah. In the early morning hours of October 31, they returned to their residence and an argument began. During the argument, Ellenwood repeatedly punched Blackeagle and at one point choked her until she could not breathe. Although the exact time that Blackeagle was beaten and strangled is not known, Ellenwood called 911 around 5:30 p.m. and reported that Blackeagle was not breathing. Law enforcement and medical personnel responded to the residence and found Blackeagle dead.
Testimony at Monday’s hearing said Blackeagle had likely been dead for several hours and that before Ellenwood called authorities, he showered and tidied up the house where the incident took place.
Ellenwood then enlisted her 10-year-old son to help her move Blackeagle’s body from the floor where she was lying to the son’s bed.
Although Ellenwood initially denied causing Blackeagle’s death and repeatedly claimed to be unable to recall the incidents that occurred, he eventually admitted to placing his hands around his neck and l to have tight. Tallman said medical examiners determined Blackeagle died of multiple blunt force trauma to the head that caused bleeding in her brain and strangulation.
Several members of Blackeagle’s family on Monday offered anguished and moving testimonies of their grief over his death.
Fawn Domebo, one of Blackeagle’s cousins who works as an advocate for victims of domestic violence, tearfully recalled that despite clear signs that Blackeagle was suffering from domestic violence, such as increasing isolation from family members and a personality change from confident to shy, “I couldn’t’ I’m not helping the person who needed me most. … How did I not recognize the warning signs of abuse?” said Domebo.
Blackeagle’s grandparents, Wilfred and Bessie Scott, “were heartbroken” after hearing about their granddaughter’s murder, Domebo said.
“Less than two months later, (Bessie Scott) passed away of a broken heart,” Domebo said. “Bessie (Blackeagle) deserves justice. Punish (Ellenwood) to the fullest extent of the law.
In a statement from Blackeagle’s mother, Dani Scott, which was read by family friend Belinda Jones, Scott recalled that due to birth complications, Blackeagle weighed just 3 pounds when she was born on May 16, 1992.
“None of us knew she would become larger than life,” Scott said.
Blackeagle excelled in school, cultivated the Nez Perce language and tribal customs, became a black belt in karate, played the piano, and held three different royalty titles.
Blackeagle worked at Spalding National Historic Park, and when his body was transported from Lewiston to Lapwai for the funeral, his colleagues at the park stood near US Highway 95 and waved as he passed, Scott said.
Jeffery Scott, Blackeagle’s uncle, expressed the fiercest anger at Ellenwood during the hearing. He also testified that Blackeagle’s personality changed after meeting Ellenwood.
“Travis killed Bessie and broke my mom’s and dad’s hearts,” Jeffery Scott said. “We, as a people and a nation, threw this man away. He can no longer walk on tribal lands – ever. And when he dies, he can’t be buried on tribal land.
Ellenwood, who wore yellow prison overalls during the hearing and sat silently next to her attorney, David R. Partovi, of Spokane, spoke tearfully and briefly as the hearing ended.
“I’m sorry for the pain I caused,” Ellenwood said. “I apologize to the family.”
No other defense witnesses were called.