‘Justice for Kozee’ gathering in Wausau calls for upgraded charges

By Ardith Van Riper

     Family, friends, and supporters of Kozee Montana Featherstone Medicinetop Decorah, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, gathered on June 5 outside the Marathon County Courthouse in Wausau for justice.  Decorah was murdered May 16 in a remote, wooded area on the Winnebago Indian Reservation in Winnebago, Nebraska.  It is believed that Jonathan Daniel Rooney, Decorah’s boyfriend and father of her children, was involved and is being charged with Manslaughter in Indian Country.

     The family believes the charge should be upgraded and that the rally outside the Courthouse works to bring awareness to Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women across the country.  The maximum punishment for Manslaughter in Indian Country is 15 years’ imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, a three year term of supervised release, and a $100 special assessment.

     Decorah, 22, was the daughter of Marvin Decorah, Sr. and Stella Medicinetop.

     Per the criminal complaint, Decorah called the Winnebago Police Department (WPD) at approximately 7:50 PM on May 16, stating the vehicle that she, her boyfriend, and infant son were traveling in had gotten stuck on a muddy road in a remote area of the reservation.  Winnebago Conservation Officers Peter Snowball and Benjamin St. Cyr were dispatched but were unable to locate the three individuals.  The Conservation Officers did locate the stuck vehicle near BIA Road 50, also known as Honey Creek Road within the boundaries of the Winnebago Indian Reservation.

     The Conservation Officers followed up at Decorah and Rooney’s residence on the Omaha Nation Indian Reservation to see if Decorah made it home.  They were unable to locate Decorah or Rooney. 

     Later, Winnebago Firefighters Jonathan Grant and Kyle Urbanec went to BIA Road 50 to assist in the search for Decorah. Conservation Officers also returned and noticed a fire while searching the area.

     Winnebago Conservation Officers Snowball and Sty. Cyr went to a cabin with the fire in a nearby outhouse.  Early in the morning on May 17, Conservation Officer Snowball went into the cabin and found Rooney naked under a blanket, appearing to have been sleeping on a mattress on the floor.  Also found was the four-month-old son of Decorah and Rooney.

     Snowball and Urbanec noticed what appeared to be bones in the fire.  Upon further examination, they believed to have found a human skull and notified WPD.

     Rooney and the infant were transported to WPD as part of assisting.  Rooney was not under arrest at the time.  At the WPD, Officer Anthony Walker observed Rooney to have a smear of blood or bruising on his arm, scratches on his left shoulder, and injury to Rooney’s right cheek.  Officer Walker asked Rooney if he knew where Decorah was.  Rooney said he did not and was detained.

     Officer Walker and FBI Special Agent Samuel Roberts went to the location of the cabin and outhouse.  Special Agent Roberts observed a skull and ribs of a human being in the embers of the fire.  Blood droplets were found on the floor of the cabin and the door of the cabin.  There was also blood on a piece of wood that was placed on top of a gas grill.  The gas grill was inside the cabin next to the mattress where Rooney had been sleeping.  The blood on the wood appeared to be a handprint.

     Special Agent Roberts returned to the WPD and spoke with Rooney.  Rooney waived his Miranda rights.  Rooney told the Special Agent that he and Decorah got stuck, and he found the cabin and started a fire in the grill while Decorah attempted to get help.  Rooney said his clothes were wet from being out in the rain, so he hung them inside the cabin to dry.  Rooney admitted that he and Decorah argued and said Decorah was yelling at him, asking him if he was high.  Rooney denied he was high or had been using alcohol.  Rooney said the argument turned physical.  Rooney said he pushed Decorah out of the cabin, shut the door, and went to lay down on the mattress.  Rooney stated the door did not lock, and the next thing he knew was an officer shining a flashlight in his face.

     Rooney became somewhat upset when Special Agent Roberts informed Rooney of the human skull in the fire, blood found all over the cabin, and that the FBI Evidence Response Team (ERT) would be going to the location and processing the area for evidence.  Rooney eventually requested the presence of a lawyer, and the interview was immediately terminated. 

     The FBI ERT collected items from the outhouse on May 17, to include the skeletal remains and a burned cell phone.  Additional items were collected from the cabin and vehicle.

     On May 19, an autopsy was conducted on the remains that were retrieved.  The forensic pathologist, Dr. Erin Linde, stated that the body was too far burned for the examiner to determine if there was any pre-thermal trauma to the skill, organs, and bones.

     On May 26, an oral autopsy of the skull and remains was conducted by Dr. John Filippi, a forensic dental consultant.  Dr. Filippi concluded that the remains recovered from the outhouse was Kozee Decorah.  Dr. Filippi positively identified her through forensic dental comparison analysis.

     It took 14 days for Kozee Decorah’s remains to make it back home.  Her funeral was May 31 at the Decorah Homestead near Wittenberg, Wisconsin.  She leaves behind three children, her mother, and siblings, Myah Decorah, Rhea (Antonio) Sanchez, Stella Decorah, Marvin Decorah, Jr., and Mariah Decorah.

     Family and friends believe the maximum sentence for Manslaughter in Indian Country does not equate the number of years Kozee Decorah was on this Earth.

     Preliminary and detention hearings for Jonathan Daniel Rooney, age 20, is scheduled for June 15 at 2:00 PM in Omaha, Nebraska.

     Additional information and updates can be found on the ‘Justice for Kozee’ Facebook page.