Cody St. John's case against attackers still ongoing

It's been more than five years since Cody St. John, a member of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, was brutally beaten after refusing to join the Vice Lords gang, and the civil case is still ongoing.

Last summer, St. John won a $4.2 million lawsuit against Keith Reynolds, one of the men who attacked him and left him for dead. Now, St. John's attorney, Patrick Noaker, is in the process of suing Lorenzo Merrill, the alleged second attacker.

"What happened to Cody was so horrible, and it was clearly intended to send a statement to the community on the Mille Lacs reservation," says Noaker, attorney for Jeff Anderson & Associates, a law firm usually known for taking on sexual abuse cases within the Catholic Church. "I just decided I had to help this kid."

The attack occurred on February 14, 2006. It was a subzero night on the Mille Lacs band Ojibwe reservation, and St. John wasn't dressed for it.

He had spent the evening drinking at his aunt's house, and left on foot only wearing pants a shirt. On the way home, St. John stopped at the reservation's community center in search of warmer clothes. It was locked.

It was around this time St. John realized he wasn't alone. Two men appeared, and jumped him.

"I don't remember anything after that because someone came up behind me and hit me in the back of the head," he says.

The next thing St. John remembers, he woke up in a hospital with a tube stuck down his throat. The two men had tied him to the back of a car and dragged him down the street. They carved the letters "VL" in his skin and left him outside the community center, unconscious in the freezing cold.

St. John could have died that night if not for his cousin Rubin, who found him in the snow and called 911.

St. John recognized one of the attackers as Reynolds, a young man he went to school with growing up. Reynolds and St. John got into a fight earlier in the night when St. John refused to join him in the Vice Lords.

Reynolds was convicted of third-degree felony assault and sentenced to one year in prison.

After hearing about St. John's case, Noaker obtained a license to practice in tribal court and sued Reynolds.

In July, the Mille Lacs Band court ruled that Reynolds must pay $4,299,937 for physical and mental injury and punitive damages.

"This guy hurt this kid, he hurt him bad," says Noaker. "And he's going to have to help pay for some of that treatment."

Next, Noaker went after Lorenzo. Lorenzo was never charged criminally, but Noaker says he was the second attacker. The case is still ongoing in tribal court.

For more on St. John and crime on the Ojibwe reservation, read this week's feature, "The Banishing."

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