Arrest made in Big Cove cold case murder
Nearly a decade after 26-year-old Marie Walkingstick Pheasant’s body was found in a burned-out vehicle in Cherokee’s Big Cove community, an arrest has been made for her murder.
Ernest Pheasant, 46, was arrested for the crime. He was also charged with possession of a firearm by a felon, tampering with witnesses, domestic violence and tampering with evidence. All are felony charges.
Marie Pheasant’s body was found on Dec. 29, 2013. The mother of two young children, she was a “quiet, sweet, loving girl,” her niece Diane Wolfe told The Smoky Mountain News in a 2022 interview. Law enforcement had long suspected that there were people in the community who knew the identity of the guilty party but decided not to come forward. At the time of Ernest Pheasant’s arrest, a $50,000 reward had been issued for information leading to an arrest or conviction.
“Ten years ago, our community was shaken by her tragic death, with her family and friends left with questions unanswered,” Principal Chief Michell Hicks said in a Facebook post. “It is our sincerest hope that this development will help give her family closure and bring justice for Marie.”
The arrest was made by the Cherokee Indian Police Department, Federal Bureau of Investigation and Bureau of Indian Affairs.
“I would like to thank the joint relationship of all agencies involved,” said Chief of Police Carla Neadeau. “This is a step towards closure for the family.”
Pheasant’s death was a devastating tragedy to her family and community, but it was not an isolated incident. Rather, it was the symptom of a nationwide epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women. According to a 2016 National Institute of Justice Research Report, more than four in five Native American women have experienced violence in their lifetime, over half have experienced sexual violence and the majority have been victims of physical violence at the hands of intimate partners. Native women are 1.7 times more likely than White women to have experienced violence in the past year. In some counties, they face murder rates more than 10 times the national average.
“We must continue to amplify the stories of Indigenous women and girls who are impacted by violence and honor their memory and legacy, and we must continue to stand in solidarity and take action to end the violence against Indigenous women and girls,” Hicks said.