Amicus lector
Do you remember Jason Hall? The judge who sentenced his killer didn’t.

Even in a record year for homicides in Sioux Falls, the death of Jason Hall stood out.

Hall, one of seven homicide victims in 2010, died two days after a beating from his best friend.

That friend, Burton Leroy Eagle Hawk, wasn’t just a lifelong buddy – he was essentially a family member. Eagle Hawk has children with Hall’s sister.

Hall died days after the beating, and Eagle Hawk ultimately got a three-year sentence for second-degree manslaughter. He was released in August, but is now facing felony drug possession charges and was in court today asking for a reduced bond.

Hall’s case doesn’t stand out for everyone. Today in court, Judge Joseph Neiles struggled to recall the details of the manslaughter, even though he was the one who gave Eagle Hawk the sentence.

“It’s a sad commentary on the high volume of cases we do that I don’t recall the case,” Neiles said.

I wouldn’t hold this against Neiles. He hears hundreds of criminal cases every year, plenty of which are incredibly tragic, and a good number of which involve family members and friends doing terrible things to each other. He’d only been handed the Eagle Hawk drug file moments before the bond hearing and hadn’t had much time to review it. 

The prosecutor didn’t remember the details, either (he wasn’t working for the Minnehaha County State’s Attorney’s Office in 2010).

Neither did the defense lawyer, Julie Hofer, who didn’t represent Eagle Hawk in 2010 and had to turn and ask him for a rundown of the manslaughter case when Neiles asked her about it.

My guess is that most readers don’t remember much about the case, either. Remember, there were seven homicides in 2010. I remember it because I met some of the people involved and I still see them around town. Even so, I missed Eagle Hawk’s name the first time it appeared on the court calendar last month, too.

Here’s the story we ran in 2010 after Eagle Hawk was indicted for manslaughter.

Deadly fight ends lifelong friendship

By John Hult

On Aug. 19, lifelong friends Burton Eagle Hawk Jr. and Jason Hall spent most of the day drinking and having a good time.

At some point in the evening, however, the 26-year-olds began to argue. The argument led to blows, and when the fight was over, Hall was beaten bloody and lying unconscious in the street. He died of his injuries two days later.

Now, a grand jury has indicted Eagle Hawk on three counts of manslaughter, and friends and family are trying to understand how a close friendship could end so tragically.

The fight occurred about 6 p.m. as the men walked along 16th Street. Neighbors called 911, and Hall was found near the intersection of Duluth Avenue.

Eagle Hawk was arrested on charges of aggravated assault within minutes. He’d fled only about two blocks - to Hall’s house, where police found him.

Hall’s mother, Lenor Gary, wishes she understood how it all happened. Eagle Hawk wasn’t only Hall’s best friend. He is the father of two of her grandchildren.

She doesn’t even know what the fight was about.

"Nobody knows," she said. "All we know is that they were arguing."

At 4 p.m. Aug. 21, doctors at Sanford USD Medical Center told her that her son was brain dead, and she began to call his friends in to say their goodbyes. At 10 p.m., he was taken off life support.

Hall’s death certificate lists the cause of death as blunt head trauma with brain hemorrhaging aggravated by alcohol in the blood.

Gary now is struggling to come to grips with the bitter realities of the loss to her family. Hall has four young children, ranging in age from 5 months to 3 years.

"It’s hard to explain to them that Daddy’s never coming back," she said.

Justin Thoreson, a friend to both men, said the incident is tragic on too many levels. The families had known each other since childhood.

"Burt’s mom helped raised Jason, too," Thoreson said.

He remembers Hall the way his mother and many friends do - as a man who loved art and poetry, who took care of his children and made everyone laugh. Gary said her son would play mediator when fights broke out.

Eagle Hawk isn’t exactly a mediator, Thoreson said, but he wouldn’t call him a killer and can’t imagine what went through his mind when he heard the news of Hall’s death.

"He’s not the type of person who’d ever wanna kill someone," he said. "They were just drunk, they got in a fight, and it got out of hand."

Gary doesn’t know how she’ll put the incident behind her. Friends wrote Hall’s name in black chalk on the steps leading to her house a few days ago.

She wants to know why Eagle Hawk beat her son so badly. She doesn’t know what she’d say to him if she saw him again.

"I’ve been asking myself that - can I forgive him? He is the father of two of my grandchildren," she said. "I don’t know if I can."

Reach reporter John Hult at 331-2301.

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