A man who pleaded guilty for his role in a summer 2017 stabbing death in the Lower Valley will serve a 14-year prison term.
George Skyhawk Thompson, 22, was sentenced Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Yakima. He was indicted in March 2018 on one count of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and could have faced up to 17½ years behind bars and a fine of up to $250,000 in the death of Neil Cloud, 20.
Thompson will receive credit for time served, which is almost a year, and won’t have to pay a fine or restitution. His case was in federal court because he is Native American, as was Cloud, and the crime occurred on the Yakama Nation reservation.
A relative contacted the Yakama Nation Police Department in August 2017 to report Cloud missing. A detective found Cloud’s decomposed body on Sept. 18, 2017, court documents state, in Medicine Valley off Towtnuk Road near White Swan. Cloud was a suspect in the murder of Felina Metsker, 33, whose body was found near White Swan in May 2016, a month after she went missing.
“The hot topic on the reservation right now is missing Native women and this is the culmination of one of those,” Troy J. Lee of Lee & Associates, one of Thompson’s two attorneys, told U.S. District Judge Stanley Bastian. “It’s a hot topic and a sad situation.”
Cloud’s brother, George Skylar Cloud, 22, was sentenced in May to life without parole for killing Metsker. Two women, Nicole Lee Sunny Cloud, 30, and her sister, Kristen Ashlie Windy Cloud, 38, were indicted as accessories after the fact in the murder. Kristen Cloud was sentenced in March to 18 months in prison. Nicole Cloud will be sentenced on Oct. 23.
Lee and Tim Nguyen sought a prison term of 10 years for Thompson, citing mitigating factors they detailed in a sentencing memorandum. His mother died at a young age and his father was not involved in his life, they said. Thompson was raised by an aunt and uncle and “as a result of the unstable living situation, his education and development suffered,” the memorandum noted.
Thompson started using drugs and alcohol at age 12 and ultimately dropped out of high school, Lee and Nguyen said. He was 20 when Cloud was murdered.
“He was heavily using drugs, specifically methamphetamines. He was using so much that his ability to appreciate the seriousness of his actions (was) practically nonexistent,” their memorandum said.
His attorneys on Wednesday said while the offense is serious, Thompson’s participation was minimal.
“He most likely was under the influence, which does not excuse his behavior,” Nguyen said. “He did take responsibility for this. Again, he did not do the actual murder.”
From “day one,” Thompson wanted to plead guilty, Lee said. “He can’t change the past. He wishes he could.”
The attorneys contacted some of Thompson’s family and friends to write letters of support for a more lenient sentence but none did, Lee said.
Bastian asked Deputy U.S. Attorney Thomas J. Hanlon why he recommended the low end of the sentencing range. Hanlon noted that Thompson had no criminal history and didn’t murder Cloud. Bastian deemed Hanlon’s sentencing recommendation appropriate.
“I’ve taken into account you’re not the principal actor in this crime,” Bastian told Thompson. Still, “Neil Cloud was murdered in a very violent and repulsive way. All I can conclude is you participated willingly. At the time Mr. Cloud was killed, you didn’t resist.”
“I also share frustration at this point that family and friends didn’t support you,” Bastian said. “You’re a young man. You’ll still be a young man when you get out. What you do with the rest of your life is up to you.”
Thompson admitted driving Neil Cloud to the home of Donovan Culps in March 2017. Culps, who has described Metsker as the mother of his child, confessed to murdering a pot shop employee in Cheney in 2017 and was sentenced earlier this year to almost 35 years in prison. After prison he will serve 36 months of probation.
“He was unsure what was going to happen, but when the altercation began between Mr. Culps and Cloud, he made the unfortunate mistake of helping,” court documents state.
When they arrived at Culps’ home, Culps ran to the car and began punching Cloud through the open window. The door opened, Cloud fell out and tried to run away but Culps began beating him, according to court documents. Cloud was yelling he was sorry before he lost consciousness. At that point, Thompson went back to his car and got zip ties to restrain Cloud.
“(Cloud) was dragged to a location near where Metsker’s trailer had been located. (Cloud) woke up, was crying, and asked (Culps) to stop. (Cloud) stated, ‘I didn’t do it,’” court documents note. “(Culps) began stabbing (Cloud) and slit his throat.”
After the murder, Thompson and Culps dug a hole for Cloud’s body. It was there for approximately four to five days. “The body was later removed and dumped in a remote location,” according to documents.