The drug robbery gone wrong narrative that’s emerged in the three days since the murder of 20-year-old Jordan LeBeau is sadly familiar.
This will be the third drug-related robbery story I’ve covered since starting on the crime beat in 2009.
Here’s what we’ve learned so far about Monday’s murder: Court documents say two Watertown teens broke into the home LeBeau shared with his father, duct-taped his hands and beat him in an attempt to locate what they thought to be $100,000 in cash.
Two Dell Rapids men had recruited them, given them a handgun and directions to the home. They were told to break in when LeBeau’s father was away, but the father walked into the middle of it. He attacked the attackers, but ended up shot in the arm. The teens shot his son and fled.
LeBeau was dead by the time police arrived. The father told the officers he’d watched his son die.
Watertown High School student Trevor Kruthoff, 17, is charged with first-degree and attempted first-degree murder for the crime, as is his classmate, 18-year-old Brian David Anderson. Kruthoff was interviewed by detectives Tuesday in the presence of his mother, the court records say.
If the facts line up the way these initial reports say they will –hardly a foregone conclusion, to be clear – it’s an incredibly tragic story.
On the first day, LeBeau’s father watches him die on the basement floor. On the second day, Kruthoff’s mother hears him admit to killing a man. By the third day, four men too young to buy beer are behind bars facing charges that could keep them there for decades, all for a handful of money none of them got their hands on.
Police found the money during a search of the LeBeau home, SFPD spokesman Sam Clemens said. He wouldn’t specify exactly how much there was, but it was a “large amount.” Police also found marijuana and some manner of controlled substance, he said.
The details aren’t exactly the same, but the case reminds me of at least two other drug robberies gone wrong in Sioux Falls.
The most recent Sioux Falls murder that reminds me of the LeBeau situation is the murder of 27-year-old Joseph Cynkar. Cynkar was dealing methamphetamine in 2010, when he was attacked by Payton Strum and Benjamin Carter and beaten to death.
Carter and Strum were high on methamphetamine when they devised their plan, which involved taking Cynkar’s drugs and his cash. Strum and Carter beat Cynkar with beer bottles, a propane tank, and the butt of an AK-47.
Cynkar’s hooded body was found on July 19, 2010 near the banks of the Big Sioux River. Strum had tried to burn down the house where it happened.
Strum and Carter were found within days. Each is serving prison time after pleading guilty to first-degree manslaughter. Carter got 60 years (the robbery was his idea); Strum got 40.
The case was the murder of 19-year-old Michael James Stevens on Dec. 30, 2009. Stevens’ frozen body sat slumped over the wheel of his car in the Expo Building parking lot for four days before a maintenance worker realized he was there.
After a series of interviews with people in Sioux Falls, police were directed to Milford, Iowa, where Samuel Blue Lint, then 18, was staying.
Lint was in Stevens’ car and had a sawed-off shotgun in his jacket on Dec. 30. He’d been using ecstasy, meth and marijuana in the days before he and Stevens went to the parking lot to smoke pot and do a dope deal. Stevens noticed the shotgun and tried to grab it, and Lint’s lawyer said he panicked and fired three times. He took Stevens’ money and the rest of his pot, stashed the gun and walked away.
Lint later tried to convince another Minnehaha County Jail inmate to kill his girlfriend, the key witness in the case. Lint is serving a life sentence after pleading guilty to second-degree murder.
The clearest South Dakota parallel to the LeBeau situation that springs to mind for me comes from rural Codington County.
Renee Eckes, then 19, and Jessi Owens, the 17, broke into the home of David Bauman on Jan. 28, 1998 in hopes of stealing $9,000. Bauman caught them in the act and attacked Eckes. Eckes threw Owens a hammer and screamed for help. Owens beat Bauman with it at her friend’s request. Eckes then picked up the hammer and continued beating Baumann.
Both women are serving life sentences at the South Dakota Women’s Prison in Pierre.
I knew Eckes in high school (she lived in my hometown of Huron before moving to the Watertown area). She wasn’t a clean-cut kid, but she wasn’t a scary kid, either. I remember hearing about the murder during my freshman year of college and thinking “Really? That doesn’t sound like her …”
Something tells me at least some of the students at Watertown High School are experiencing something similar today as they think about their classmates Kruthoff and Anderson.
We’ll learn a bit more this afternoon, when the two teens appear in court for the first time.
I’ve written in the past about asset forfeiture in South Dakota, the process by which the state fills the drug control fund.
Here’s a primer: If you’re caught with drugs, the law says any assets suspected of being earned through the sale of drugs can be seized through a civil action before your criminal case is resolved.
Generally, this means cash. Often, it also means a vehicle.
If you have a trailer full of marijuana and truck full of cash, the law has the right to take it all. Once it’s gone, the state files a civil case against your assets and names you in the complaint. You then have 30 days to respond and say why the state shouldn’t get your stuff.
What usually happens is this: The person loses their cash, the complaint is filed and no response follows. The state gets the money then, free and clear. Anything that isn’t cash is sold at biannual auctions. The money is then used to equip police departments across the state.
Sometimes the person fights back. That’s when things get interesting.
Last week, I saw an answer to one of these asset forfeiture claims from Madison, Wisc. man named Dustin Sobacki.
Sobacki lost his cash on Oct. 22. The complaint says the $2,900 he was caught with was derived from the unlawful sale of a controlled substance or marijuana.
Not so, Mr. Sobacki says. He had the cash to buy a car. In his answer, he included emails between himself and the Portland, Ore. seller of a 1973 El Camino. There’s even a post-seizure apology email that says “they took my money” in South Dakota and a list of bank account transactions.
Furthermore, he said, the state “lost or misplaced” some of his cash. He wants it all back, thank you very much.
Now the state will need to put in work to prove Sobacki wrong.
Here’s a copy of his answer.
Sometimes this can get pretty interesting. In 2010, I wrote about Justin Young, a Sioux Falls man who apparently had a motorcycle and methamphetamine business running side by side. Part of the meth business involved affixing phony bar codes to security systems at Menards, which lowered the price considerably at checkout.
A partner would pick up the mismarked systems and buy them, after which Young would re-sell them for a profit to drug dealers.
I followed his cases through state and federal court (Mr. Young is in federal prison for methamphetamine right now) for several months before putting a story together. In the end, Young’s family was able to keep some of the cash initially seized in the forfeiture proceedings. It was used to pay restitution and court costs.
Here’s the story on the Young situation. It ran on Oct. 8, 2010
Felon admits guilt in high-tech retail scam
A convicted felon with a history of forgery, burglary and theft admitted Thursday to using counterfeit UPC labels to shave $1,600 off the price of merchandise at Menard’s in Sioux Falls.
The admission of guilt in the Minnehaha County grand theft case signals the end of a seven-month courtroom saga for the family of 31-year-old Justin David Young. They said he was on his way to a normal life when a medical condition forced him from his job last year, and he returned to the criminal lifestyle only to support his family and help him finance the beginnings of a legitimate business.
Young avoided felony convictions for six years, but instead of watching Pedal 2 the Metal Motorsports turn into a profitable enterprise, he and his fiancée, Heidi Sowell, saw their vehicle, trailer, inventory and start-up cash seized by the state as part of a narcotics investigation.Young was sentenced last week to 13 years in prison for methamphetamine distribution.
The couple, who have two children together, were barred from seeing one another as part of Sowell’s August sentence.
Prosecutors say the couple was trading methamphetamine for motorcycles, but Sowell and Young say the situation was more complex.
Police pulled the pair over in Sioux Falls on March 8 and found a small marijuana pipe in Sowell’s pocket. They then found a small amount of meth in their hotel room and $20,000 in cash, meth, a handful of prescription pills, drug paraphernalia and a stash of counterfeit UPC labels from five stores inside a trailer at their home in Sioux Falls. The trailer was registered to their business.
At her August sentencing, Sowell told Circuit Judge Larry Long that Pedal 2 the Metal was not a front for drug dealing.
"Our business was not a cover," she said. "It was a legitimate business. We were trying to move away from the lifestyle we were living."
That lifestyle had gotten out of hand, she said. She was pregnant at the time of her arrest, and she admitted to using methamphetamine during her pregnancy.
She spent several weeks in detox and another four months in a halfway house, where she had her child. Her lawyer, John Wilka, told Long that she’d completed inpatient treatment and taken charge of her recovery.
Long praised her efforts to stay clean, but said it wasn’t enough. In addition to a 60-day jail sentence, Long ordered that she have no contact with her fiancé for three years after her release.
"You’ll not survive if you maintain a relationship with Justin Young," Long said. "I’m perfectly confident of that."
A month later, Sowell’s brother, 25-year-old Dwain Riffle, pleaded guilty to grand theft for his part in the UPC scheme. Young took pictures of UPC codes with his phone, court documents state, and used the photos to design the labels. He would affix the phonies to the products, and Riffle would return later and purchase them.
Young had an $18-an-hour job operating heavy equipment at a cement plant last year when he began to have seizures, defense lawyer Sonny Walter said at Young’s sentencing last week. He was no longer able to work, Walter said, but still had child support and restitution payments to make. His mother, Wendy Young, had been diagnosed with cancer before the job loss.
"He saw an opportunity to sell some drugs to help out his family," Walter said. "It wasn’t the right decision, but that’s what happened."
After reviewing his pre-sentence file, U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier believed that Young had attempted to live within the bounds of the law after moving to Sioux Falls from western South Dakota.
He had convictions for forgery, grand theft, petty theft, drug possession, burglary and escape from custody in Pennington and Lawrence counties. His last theft conviction was in 2004 in Lawrence County.
He’d obtained a tax license for Pedal 2 the Metal and sold a handful of rebuilt snowmobiles and motorcycles on the Internet, and the business was on track to become profitable.
"For being a 31-year-old, you have a pretty high criminal profile," Schreier said. "It did look to me, though, that you had been trying to turn your life around. Unfortunately, you got back involved with the same things you’d been doing before."
After sentencing him to 151 months in federal prison - the bottom end of the sentencing guidelines for his case - she told him to aspire to the lifestyle he’d turned away from.
"I’m hopeful you can look back at the time when you set up your business and had a stable family life and remember that you can choose that again."
Reach reporter John Hult at 331-2301.
That’s how long it’s been since former state economic development director Richard Benda died of an apparent gunshot wound.
It’s also how long we’ve been waiting for the state to certify Benda’s cause of death, and it’s the longest I’ve ever waited to find out.
Benda, as we all know at this point, is a key figure in an investigation into the use of EB5 visas to spur economic development in South Dakota during the Mike Rounds administration. The suspicion is that Benda committed suicide, but we don’t know for sure, because his death certificate has yet to be filed.
Generally, if there’s a suspicious, newsworthy death and some question about the cause – in a child abuse case, for example – I go to the register of deeds office and pay $15 for an informational copy of the victim’s death certificate.
The certificate lists the cause or causes of death, next of kin, place of injury, method of burial and a handful of other bits of factual data.
It usually takes a while for these certificates to be filed. If it isn’t in the state’s system when I make a request, I pay up front, collect the receipt and wait for a call from the clerks telling me that the record is ready.
In cases where an autopsy is performed, the preliminary results usually are enough to allow the state to file the death certificate. In four and a half years on the crime beat, I’ve never had to wait longer than a week and a half.
For Tyrese Ruffin, the son of Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson who died in a suspected case of child abuse, I paid on Oct. 15 and picked it up Oct. 22. That’s one week from the payment and just shy of two weeks removed from the 2-year-old’s death on Oct. 9
I paid for a copy of Benda’s death certificate on Oct. 30. As of this morning, there’s still nothing.
What does it mean? I don’t know. I’m not in the speculation business. I’ll leave that to the blogosphere.
My hope is that you’ve already read Steve Young’s story about the real life horror movie that played out 40 years ago at Gitchie Manitou State Preserve.
Four teens died there at the hands of three brothers. A fifth was raped and returned home by the attackers.
If you haven’t read it, you ought to. Soon.
A lot of things came together to make the story happen, but the most important was the willingness of Sandra Chesky, the sole survivor, to talk about her experience.
Her recollections of that night and the stressful weeks, months and years that followed are stunning. The most striking for me was the one she made to explain her desire to tell the story so many years later.
“I want (my grandchildren) to know that it was a huge tragedy, and that Grandma wasn’t doing anything bad.”
This points to a truth that most people know but few truly understand about crime victims: There’s a feeling of guilt, a feeling that they did something wrong, that they did something to deserve the horrors visited upon them, and the feeling can stick around for decades.
It’s a particularly common struggle for victims of rape or domestic violence. If a woman is out with a man and drinking prior to a sexual assault, there’s often a nagging suspicion in their mind – either expressly stated or implied through social stigma – that they shouldn’t have been there. The law, of course, recognizes that the person who takes advantage of the situation and preys upon the victim is the one responsible, although there is still a struggle in some areas to align prosecutions with that understanding.
Knowing something intellectually and knowing it as a personal truth are two different things. That Chesky was willing to come forward and own the Gitchie Manitou story is a powerful statement about reclaiming tragedy from those who would victimize the vulnerable and communities that make them feel judged for being victimized.
One of the most touching moments in the story comes near the end, when 94-year-old former Lyon County sheriff Craig Vinson meets up with Chesky for the first time since the investigation:
“I never thought you were a bad girl,” Vinson told her in between embraces. “And I checked on you through the years to make sure you were doing all right. I’m sure you didn’t know that.”
“Well, bless you,” she responded.
If you’ve been following the case of accused mass murderer Nikko Jenkins in Omaha, perhaps you caught another interesting tidbit from today’s World Herald.
Yesterday, we learned that Mr. Jenkins wrote a mess of letters indicating that he wants to plead guilty to killing his four victims, all of whom were shot within a span of 10 days shortly after the mentally-ill man was released from prison this summer.
Today, we learned that a woman, perhaps “one of his girlfriends,” brought a letter outlining his intent to plead guilty to the killings to the courthouse in Douglas County.
The letters come in spite of the fact that prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Jenkins. Even if he pleads guilty, he’d need a second trial to determine if he’s eligible for execution.
I couldn’t help but recall two South Dakota death penalty cases while reading about Jenkins this morning.
Eric Robert came to mind first. Robert, executed just over a year ago for the murder of corrections officer Ron Johnson, wanted to plead guilty at his initial appearance. That was the day after the murder.
Eventually, we learned that Robert also wanted to die for the crime. He said so at his sentence hearing. He later challenged the authority of the South Dakota Supreme Court to delay his execution, which was done to give them time to review his conviction.
Robert’s persistence paid off for him in macabre fashion. He was executed within a year of his sentence, which is more quickly than any inmate in the modern era since Gary Gilmore in 1977.
The other case that comes to mind is that of James McVay, the confessed killer who pleaded guilty but mentally ill to the 2011 slaying of Maybelle Schein. He’s facing possible execution, as well, with a jury trial on his penalty set for early next year.
McVay, like Jenkins, claimed he was hearing voices that drove him to crime, and he wrote a letter to the Argus Leader saying as much.
In the letter, he confessed to the crime, said he’d spent a night under a bridge in Sertoma Park drinking cough syrup and whiskey and praying to Lucifer the night before killing his victim.
He and Jenkins both served time in Nebraska and were released on “good time,” a system in that state by which an inmate automatically serves half their sentence. McVay walked away from a minimum security unit in Sioux Falls in 2009, stole a truck and was captured in South Sioux City, Neb.
He served half of a grand theft sentence in Lincoln, all the while earning time for the escape conviction he’d picked up in South Dakota. Once he returned to prison in Sioux Falls, he only had a few months left. Oddly enough, he spent those months in disciplinary segregation as punishment for the 2009 escape.
There’s another thread that connects the cases here: Jenkins’ actions have called the Nebraska DOC’s policies into questions. Jenkins was an assaultive inmate who had mental health issues and shouldn’t have been released when he was, the World Herald reported.
Robert and his co-defendant Rodney Berget weren’t notably violent behind the walls, but they each were classified as maximum security inmates and they each had escape points. Even so, they had jobs as laundry orderlies that gave them access to the prison grounds and enough freedom to plot the murder and escape plan for which they’d both receive death sentences.
That they had that access in spite of escape attempts and histories of poor behavior is the subject of a lawsuit filed by Johnson’s widow, Lynette, against the state DOC.
McVay’s release from disciplinary confinement directly into a minimum security unit raised questions about the thoroughness of his mental health care and pre-release review.
He’d been treated for a series of mental issues in Nebraska. He’d also threatened to kill Vice President Joe Biden (in 2011, his plan was to kill his way to Washington, D.C. and assassinate Barack Obama). Neither of those facts stopped him from earning early release. The South Dakota DOC says it hadn’t received complete reports on McVay from Nebraska by the time his release date rolled around.
The Jenkins case, which is far messier than either South Dakota case, is still in its early stages. As one defense lawyer noted today, inmates sometimes make snap decisions about confessions, and even those on death row waver on whether to give up their appeals. Berget actually asked for a death sentence, albeit with fewer words than Robert, but then appealed his case.
Will the Jenkins case push Nebraska to alter its good time policies? Will the DOC pay closer attention to mental health services? Will he remain steadfast in his commitment to plead guilty and face a death sentence? I’ll be watching.
Liquor licenses are hot commodities in Sioux Falls, as evidenced by J.L. Atyeo’s story in today’s paper.
There’s a 13-strong waiting list for the licenses at the moment. If you could get one, you’d have to fork over a $192,605 application fee to the city for a liquor-only license or $260,245 for a liquor-and-food license.
There’s a $1,500 annual fee after that for either one. Beer-only licenses are far cheaper ($345 a year).
Given that Minnehaha County has seen a 49 percent increase in crime since 2009 and that prosecutors are fond of pointing out that 80 percent of crime is “chemically-propelled,” my first thought was “I wonder if that money goes to the police department?”
Some of it certainly does. The money goes into the city’s general fund, which pays most of the police department’s $31 million budget.
The license money isn’t earmarked, but Police Chief Doug Barthel said today that the city’s been pretty good about giving his department what they need, so earmarking it “probably wouldn’t change much for us.”
There’s another government entity paying for all that crime that isn’t getting any help from the license fees, though: Minnehaha County. The county pays to house inmates, prosecute crime and defend criminals. The issue of funding is at the heart of the discussion on the possibility of expanding the jail or building a new one altogether, and it has prosecutors and public defenders asking for new employees every year.
The issue of funding for prosecution and defense actually came up in court a few weeks back, when Minnehaha County Public defender Traci Smith argued that the state ought to be preempted from seeking a death sentence against confessed killer James McVay because the county hadn’t adequately staffed her office.
Commissioner Jeff Barth is the county’s firebrand on the alcoohol-fueled crime issue. Because the county’s only real means of generating revenue is through property taxes, he tends to say things like “your house doesn’t drink, but your house has to pay for all the drunken drivers who might run into it.”
Barth doesn’t want a chunk of license fees. He wants a change to state law that would allow counties to levy a sales tax on alcohol.
That would be a far steadier revenue stream than one-time application fees or annual renewals, so it makes more sense as a means to pay the crime bills. License fees only make up one percent of the city budget, so it’s not the most important of revenue streams.
The county collects its own liquor license fees, anyway. Those licenses are nowhere near as lucrative as they are for the city of Sioux Falls, though.
Here’s how it works: If you have a bar outside city limits but inside the county, you pay the county for your license. The fee you pay is based on the city your establishment is nearest to.
If you’re near Baltic, for example, you pay the Baltic fee, which is $1,200. If you’re near Sioux Falls, you pay $192,360.
The Crooks Gun Club lost interest in a county liquor license for that reason. The club is near the Flying J, so their license would be plenty pricey. If they were near Crooks, as they were in the 1960s, they’d pay the $1,200 fee.
Based on its population, the city of Crooks only has two licenses (in case you were curious).
Anyway, there’s one upside to a county liquor license for a business owner: You can have one if you want it. There are 14 available and 11 of them are taken.
Maybe you wouldn’t want to open a Steak House in Sherman. But here’s something to ponder: If you get a license from the county and your business is later annexed into the city of Sioux Falls, you keep the license.
In a city growing at the speed of Sioux Falls, a forward-looking business owner might be tempted to set up shop at the edge of town and bypass the city’s waiting list altogether.
Here’s the county’s license cheat sheet.
2013 Liquor License Information.pdf
Last night, I stumbled upon an interesting bit of Halloween-related crime news.
Apparently, it’s illegal for registered sex offenders on parole or probation to hand out candy in Waco, Texas.
That means police in Waco spend the run-up to Halloween tracking offenders, and those offenders - 72 of them, in total - will be required to check in at the probation department between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m.
The Texas offenders “will watch movies, possibly one about substance abuse, and hear speakers during their four-hour visit to the office”
Now, the sex offender registry is a nationwide phenomenon, with each state and the federal government maintaining a list and regulating where the people on it can live or work. The Halloween check-ups and no candy rules aren’t universal, though.
This morning, I called Sioux Falls police spokesman Sam Clemens to ask if those rules exist in South Dakota.
“There’s no law that says they can’t hand out candy,” Clemens said. “The only restriction would be if they had probation or bond conditions that said they can’t be around children.”
Unlike in Waco, those who have those restrictions aren’t subject to additional scrutiny. In other words, parole agents, cops and probation officers don’t blanket the city to check up on everyone on conditions.
Clemens says he gets the sex offenders with candy question every year. He has to explain, as he did for me, that individual states and cities make those rules and set up compliance checks, and that Sioux Falls doesn’t do that.
Sex offenders in South Dakota are restricted from living near “community safe zones” where children congregate: Schools, pools, parks and the like. There’s no rule that says a sex offender can’t have contact with children, though.
Plenty of sex offenders have children, after all. Plenty more were convicted of sex crimes that have nothing to do with attacks on children. Every sex offender who spends time in prison is expected to complete a treatment program that starts by ranking them in terms of potential to reoffend.
I spoke with the head of the DOC’s sex offender program a few weeks back about the ranking system, and he told me that the number of offenders who rank in the top tier for future dangerousness is incredibly low. The ones who do are subject to much higher scrutiny that the others.
Even so, once those folks are free, there’s no law that says they can’t give candy to kids.
The death of a toddler from suspected child abuse in Sioux Falls has become a national story thanks to the boy’s connection to NFL MVP Adrian Peterson.
Last week, the running back’s father confirmed that the 2-year-old victim, Tyrese Robert Ruffin, was Peterson’s son.
Peterson’s involvement aside, however, this is a case of child abuse that has a lot in common with countless others.
Joey Patterson, the 27-year-old with whom the Ruffin and his mother were living,has been charged with aggravated assault and aggravated assault on an infant.
The second charge is commonly known as the “shaken baby” law, as it involves causing brain hemorrhages in a young child by shaking, blows or hitting the child’s head against something.
Patterson will face more charges soon
I’ve covered a handful of “shaken baby” cases in Sioux Falls since 2009, and looking to those can give us some insight into this one. Here are answers to some of the questions you might have about how South Dakota will seek justice in the Ruffin case.
1. What could Patterson be charged with, and what kind of punishment would he face?
Patterson is sitting in jail on the assault charges, so Lincoln County State’s Attorney Tom Wollman is in no hurry to charge him for the homicide. He’ll review Patterson’s interviews with police, look at the results from the boy’s autopsy and weigh his options then take the case to a grand jury.
In South Dakota, there are five basic ways to charge a homicide: first- or second-degree murder, first- or second-degree manslaughter or vehicular homicide. Vehicular homicide involves impaired driving, so that’s out.
First-degree murder involves premeditated killing. Second-degree murder doesn’t require premeditation, but involves an “imminently dangerous” act by a depraved mind with a disregard for human life.
First-degree murder is punishable by death or life in prison without parole. Second-degree murder is life without parole.
First-degree manslaughter involves conduct that was “not designed to effect the death” of another person. The death can come through the commission of another felony (aggravated assault, for example), through the use of a dangerous weapon or through cruel and unusual actions undertaken in the heat of passion.
Second-degree manslaughter is reckless killing that doesn’t meet the standards set for murder or first-degree manslaughter.
First-degree manslaughter is punishable by up to life in prison. Second-degree manslaughter carries up to 10 years.
A jury convicted Christopher Brian Fisher of first-degree manslaughter in 2010. Fisher was accused of killing his girlfriend’s child, Preston Vensand, on Thanksgiving Day 2009, and he’s currently serving a 60-year sentence. Like Patterson, he initially told police he hadn’t hurt the boy. He confessed after doctors determined the boy’s injuries weren’t accidental and police pressed him about what he’d done to the child.
2. Will Patterson be eligible for the death penalty?
Highly unlikely. The bar for the death penalty is incredibly high. To get a death sentence, prosecutors must prove at least one of 10 aggravating factors to a separate jury after a person is convicted of first-degree murder. You can take a look here.
Unless Patterson confessed to doing something nearly unspeakable to Ruffin (beyond beating the child, in other words), I don’t see him joining this group.
Prosecutors have to announce their intention to seek the death penalty before doing so.No shaken or abused child case in recent years has gone that way, though.
3. Could Patterson walk free?
Yes. This does happen. A man named Dustin Two Bulls was charged with murder and manslaughter in the 2010 beating death of Deryun Wilson, his wife’s son. Two Bulls was the last person to see the child alive, and all the evidence pointed to him.
However, as the case progressed, things got complicated. Wilson had signs of abuse beyond brain hemorrhaging. He’d also been in the care of several people in the hours and days leading up to his death. Medical testimony opened up the possibility that he could have sustained his fatal head injuries more than a day before he collapsed on the floor. He slept in until noon on the day he died, and Two Bulls wasn’t watching him the night before.
The Two Bulls case never went to trial. No one has been punished for the Wilson homicide.
Fisher’s case nearly ran into snags based on the way police gleaned a confession. At his trial, defense lawyers said Fisher only confessed to shaking Vensand and striking his head because he’d been up for more than a day and was broken down after hours of intense interrogation.
Without his confession, there would have been little proof.
Another man, Utkarsh Vijayvergia, was charged with aggravated assault on an infant in 2009. He argued that the police had twisted his explanation for the baby’s injuries. His case also was dropped.
This illustrates a frequent issue prosecutors face: If there are no witnesses, they need conclusive proof or a confession to make a charge stick.
What Patterson said to police and how he said it will be key. Keep your eyes peeled for news of a suppression hearing.
If Patterson’s lawyer calls for one, they’ll have to explain why their client’s statements ought to be tossed. A hearing would following the motion to suppress, at which a judge would hear from the detective or detectives who did the interview.
This happens before the trial in plenty of big cases, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a hearing happened here.
4. Could Patterson be in more trouble based on his history?
Yes and no. He did plead guilty to domestic violence and a bond violation for attacking his previous girlfriend and her 3-year-old child. But those were misdemeanors, not felonies.
Previous felonies allow prosecutors to charge a person as a habitual offender, but Patterson doesn’t have any. It takes three simple assault convictions for the potential penalty in a new assault to be enhanced. Patterson doesn’t have that, either.
What he does have is a previous conviction and an ex who’s filed several protection orders against him. Wollman wants him to serve his suspended jail time because of the new charge. If he’s convicted of assault or manslaughter, the judge will likely consider that history in fashioning a sentence.
If he’s convicted of murder, he’s gone for life regardless.
4. Will the child’s mother be charged?
Again, highly unlikely. Now, I understand that there’s been a lively and completely speculative discussion about the role and responsibility of Ruffin’s mother. But I don’t see any charges for her.
Why? Well, let’s be honest about what it means when we say “the mother should be charged for leaving her son with a man who had a history of abuse,” as some commenters have said.
That assumes plenty, chiefly that she knew the history and believed her son was in danger because of it.
Now, there are some people who might go to the county courthouse, pay the $25 fee and run a criminal background check on their potential romantic partners, but most people won’t and the law doesn’t expect people to. People tend to put more stock in what they see and hear from a potential partner than what the past says, anyway.
With regard to Patterson, I know this: A lot more people have been in a lot more trouble for domestic violence than he has without losing the right to see and act as a custodian to their children and other children.
Patterson had been through family violence training. He had unsupervised visitation with his own young son. The woman he’d been charged with attacking dropped each protection order she took out against him.
We don’t know how long Patterson was with Ruffin’s mother. We don’t know if there was any violence in the home prior to the Ruffin assault. Is it possible that there was violence and the mother was too frightened to report it to police? Sure.
It’s just as possible that there had been no violence yet – remember, this was a fairly new relationship – and that Ruffin’s mother only knew Patterson as a loving father to his own kid. Maybe he’d never been left alone with the boy. Maybe he’d been the regular babysitter for hours at a time. Maybe he’d hidden any indication that he had violence in him.
We don’t know the circumstances. Here’s what I do know: I haven’t covered a shaken baby case where the mother has been charged for leaving the child with the caregiver.
If you’d like to press a prosecutor on any of these issues today, you’ll get your chance at 3 p.m.
Minnehaha County State’s Attorney Aaron McGowan, who oversaw each of the previous cases I mentioned, will be on Lalley’s 100 Eyes talk show then.
McGowan won’t be able to talk about Ruffin, but he should be able to clear some things up.
Freeman’s looking for a police chief again.
The city had offered the job to a guy from Sturgis with decades of law enforcement experience. They needed someone because their last chief, Eric Seitz, got busted for doctor-shopping in April. Seitz pleaded guilty, got sentenced to probation, and has since moved back to Las Vegas.
Freeman’s mayor told the council last night that there were no immediately available candidates to take the place of John Krebs, who decided to stay in Deadwood.
This isn’t unheard of in small departments.
Hiring is difficult in rural South Dakota. Later this month, you’ll see a series about rural policing that Steve Young and I worked on through the summer that will explore a lot of these issues.
The city of Worthing had an experience similar to Freeman’s earlier this year.
The Lincoln County city fired their longtime chief, Roger Knutson, about a year ago for alleged “unprofessional conduct.” They hired Centerville Police Chief Brion Kimball to take over in the Spring. The Worthing Enterprise newspaper ran a picture of him accepting the job.
He changed his mind in less than a month. He’s still in Centerville.
The city finally filled the position in August, when the council voted to hire Matt Hess.
Flandreau’s gone through some relatively serious upheaval this year, as well, some of which has been related to alleged criminal conduct.
Chief Michael Eisenbarth and officers Jesse Doyle and Stephen Nelson resigned in February in the face of a Division of Criminal Investigation inquiry into seized cash.
Nelson is facing grand theft charges for allegedly bringing home nearly $1,400 from the department’s evidence room, reportedly using it as a bank for his gambling habit (some money was returned, court records say).
During a preliminarily hearing this summer, Nelson’s lawyer coaxed the DCI agent investigating the theft into admitting that other items had been removed from the evidence room and later returned by FPD officers. Those items included a Nintendo Wii gaming console and a BB gun.
Flandreau hired a chief this Spring – former Alcester chief Jim Morey - then spent the summer collecting applications, doing interviews and slowly rebuilding its police force.
One of the officers they hired was Jimmy Murphy, a former colleague of Morey’s in Alcester. Murphy resigned in September, though.
About week after he turned in his gear, he was arrested in Sioux City on a disorderly conduct charge for allegedly creating a disturbance at his daughter’s school.
Unlike Freeman, Flandreau had a backlist of candidates thanks to its hiring push this year. The Flandreau council was set to approve another officer hire last night.
For Freeman, it’s back to square one.
Lawyers for Deane Berg, the Sioux Falls woman who says her use of talc-based body powder caused her ovarian cancer, hailed Friday’s jury verdict as a “great day for women all over the country.”
They say the verdict might force Johnson and Johnson to put a label on its body powder noting that studies have shown an association between ovarian cancer and the use of talc for feminine hygiene. Through the two-week trial, her lawyers characterized the company as one engaged in cover-up tactics, repeatedly comparing J&J to the tobacco industry.
The lawyers might call the verdict as a win - jurors did tie Berg’s cancer to talc - but it’s nowhere near as big as it could have been.
The company, as it turns out, was also “pleased” with the verdict.
There were two counts in the case: First, that the company was “strictly liable” for its failure to warn of a cancer risk, and second, that it was “negligent” in its failure to warn.
The jury found for Berg on the negligence count, but rejected her “strict liability” claim, which would have designated Shower to Shower body powder as being “defective” without a warning label.
Also, and perhaps most tellingly, Berg wasn’t awarded any damages of any kind: Not for medical bills, not for interest, not as punishment for Johnson and Johnson for their negligence.
All along, the company’s lawyers argued that there is no conclusive link between ovarian cancer and talc, and they rejected the notion that their products had caused Berg’s cancer. They declined to comment at the courthouse on Friday, but on Saturday I received this comment via email from company spokesperson Carol Goodrich:
“We have no higher responsibility than the health and safety of consumers, and we sympathize with Ms. Berg. At the same time, we are pleased with this unanimous jury verdict finding no liability on the part of our company and awarding no damages. This is consistent with decades of scientific evidence, including independent peer-reviewed studies, supporting the safety of cosmetic talc.”
That reads like a statement from a winning side.
To parse this further, let’s take a look at the jury instructions and at the questions they asked during nearly 12 hours of deliberations.
To give Berg a win on the negligence claim, jurors had to find either that J&J failed to warn of a risk of a “reasonably foreseeable use” of its products or that J&J failed to “give adequate instructions” for a such a use.
The strict liability standard was higher. To win there, the jury had to find that a danger existed, that inadequate warning was given, that the lack of a warning rendered the products defective and unreasonably dangerous, that the products were defective when they reached Berg.
For both the strict liability and negligence claims, jurors were instructed to find, by greater weight of the evidence (more likely true than not true), that the harm Berg suffered was “a foreseeable consequence of the act complained of,” and that “reasonable people would regard” J&J’s conduct as a cause of Berg’s injury (cancer).
That didn’t mean they needed to find that to be the only cause, but the causation element was there on both counts.
The jury sent four questions to Judge Karen Schreier during their deliberations.
First, they asked where the punitive damages would go. To Berg, Schreier told them.
Second, they asked to see a bottle of Shower to Shower body powder, including the instructions. Schreier told them they had to use the exhibits they were given.
Third, they wanted a definition of the word “defective.” Schreier repeated the jury instruction on the matter, which said the products would be defective if a reasonable person would see them as dangerous without a label.
Finally, they asked what they were supposed to do if they couldn’t come to a unanimous verdict. Schreier told them to take all the facts into account, to act as judges of those facts, and to be willing to re-examine their own beliefs if necessary.
So the question remains: What does this verdict mean? Based on the instructions, the jury clearly voted to say that there was an element of negligence by Johnson and Johnson in its failure to disclose an association between ovarian cancer and talc use and that talc contributed to Berg’s cancer.
On the other hand, their decision to forego damages suggests that the comparisons to the tobacco companies were overreaching.
To award punitive damages, the instructions said, they had to find that the company’s behavior amounted to “willful and wanton” misconduct, out of malice.
For those of you who might be interested, here’s a copy of the jury instructions.
Final Jury Instructions