Amicus lector
Drugs, cash and robberies gone wrong

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.

 

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