, Uintah County Jail
Keith Kessley Blackhair pleaded guilty to one count of assault by striking, beating and wounding while in Indian Country on Thursday, March 8, 2012, in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City.

SALT LAKE CITY — A Duchesne County man has pleaded guilty in federal court to a reduced charge in connection with a September 2009 beating that left the victim with permanent brain damage.

Keith Kessley Blackhair, of Myton, entered his plea Thursday to assault by striking, beating and wounding while in Indian Country, a misdemeanor.

Blackhair, 26, was originally indicted by a federal grand jury in December 2011 on a felony charge of assault resulting in serious bodily injury while in Indian Country. That charge carries a possible prison term of up to 10 years. The maximum sentence for the misdemeanor he pleaded to is six months.

State court records show Uintah County sheriff's deputies were contacted on Sept. 28, 2009, by someone who found Ramos Ray “Moose” Cesspooch lying — half-dressed and bloodied — alongside a road near the Pariette Wetlands.

“I saw that the man was bleeding from his ears and there were shoe prints on his face,” a deputy wrote.

Shortly after finding Cesspooch, investigators located Blackhair and three other individuals at an oil field location about seven miles away. They were told Cesspooch — who has a criminal history that includes convictions for aggravated assault, witness tampering, fleeing from police, and theft, according to state court records — had punched Blackhair in the face while the men were seated in a car.

The witnesses said Blackhair and Cesspooch got out of the vehicle, started to fight and Cesspooch was knocked unconscious. That's when Blackhair kicked the downed man twice more in the head, a witness told investigators.

Cesspooch was flown by medical helicopter to Salt Lake City where he was put on life support. He was not expected to survive, but did. He is now 30, but has the mental capacity of a 14-year-old as a result of the beating, according to family members.

Blackhair was originally charged in 8th District Court with aggravated assault, a second-degree felony. He pleaded no contest in March 2010, then retained a new attorney, who challenged the state's jurisdiction to prosecute.

The attack on Cesspooch occurred within the exterior boundaries of the Uintah-Ouray Indian Reservation, and because both Blackhair and Cesspooch are enrolled members of the Ute Indian Tribe, jurisdiction over them rests with either the tribe or the federal government, the attorney argued.

The U.S. Attorney's Office for Utah subsequently presented Blackhair's case to a grand jury, which returned an indictment, and Uintah County prosecutors asked a judge to dismiss the case in state court.

After entering his guilty plea Thursday, Blackhair asked to be sentenced immediately. U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups ordered him to serve four months in federal custody. Blackhair will begin serving the sentence April 2.

E-mail: [email protected], Twitter: GeoffLiesik