ST. PAUL (AP) -- The mother of a woman killed on an Indian Reservation is allowed to file a civil lawsuit in state court even though she didn't exhaust tribal court remedies, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.
''The wrongful death statute is a civil law of general applicability ... and a state court decision will not infringe on sovereign immunity or matters of tribal self-government,'' Judge Edward J. Parker wrote in the three-judge panel's unanimous decision.
Dean L. Brooks, 25, of Prior Lake pleaded guilty in 1998 to second-degree murder for killing the mother of his child on the Shakopee Mdewakanton Dakota Reservation.
The child's grandmother sued Brooks in Hennepin County District Court, as trustee for her daughter's heirs and next of kin, to recover civil damages. Brooks, a tribe member, asked that the case be dismissed, saying it should have been filed in tribal court instead.
The district court judge said the court had proper jurisdiction because the dead woman's mother sought damages against a tribe member -- not a tribe, tribal official, or tribal business, or implicate the sovereign immunity of the tribe. The appeals court agreed.
A trial date now will be set for the case.
Brooks, who police say is a heavy drug user, admitted killing Kinscem Teta, 22. Teta was last seen near the Mystic Lake Casino going to find Brooks to get money for their daughter's Christmas presents.
Teta's body was found a month later in the trunk of a car towed from south Minneapolis during a snow emergency. Her body was wrapped in a comforter from the mobile home where Brooks had been staying on the reservation.
Teta had been shot once behind the right ear with a gun that still hasn't been found. Police interviewed several people who said Brooks told them he killed Teta because she refused to have sex with him.
Brooks agreed to a 36-year sentence, including at least 24 years in prison. He is forbidden to have contact with Teta's family until he is 59 and must pay prosecution costs of $23,000. In exchange, two first-degree murder charges were dropped.
Teta's mother is taking care of Brooks' and Teta's 4-year-old daughter.
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