Man accused of fatally beating retired Rapid City teacher pleads guilty

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) — A man accused of fatally beating a retired Rapid City teacher in 2017 has pleaded guilty to a reduced charge in a plea deal with prosecutors.

“I know I’m responsible,” Andrew Eastman said in court Tuesday after pleading guilty to first-degree manslaughter in the death of 64-year-old Larry Mintzlaff, who worked as a teacher and coach at North Middle School from 1983 to 2013.

Eastman was originally charged with first-degree murder and could have faced the death penalty if convicted. The plea agreement has the prosecution asking for a 60-year sentence. The defense will argue that Eastman’s mental health is a mitigating factor that should result in a shorter sentence, Judge Jeff Davis said in state court in Rapid City.

The plea deal also dismissed charges of second-degree escape and grand theft.

Eastman told Davis that he fled while serving time at a job site as an inmate at the minimum security prison in Rapid City and stole a vehicle, but that he can’t remember anything about what happened next. He said he realized he “made a horrible choice” once he sobered up.

Eastman was serving time for drug and theft offenses, left his inmate job at the city landfill, stole a city-owned pickup truck and attacked Mintzlaff at his home, according to police. The retired teacher was found dead on June 2, 2017.

Investigators traced Mintzlaff’s stolen cell phone and credit cards and a fugitive task force arrested Eastman a week later after finding him driving Minztlaff’s stolen blue Ford Focus in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Police say a baseball bat and bloody clothing were found in the vehicle.