South Dakota attorney general's trial in deadly car crash could begin in August
Sixth Judicial Circuit Judge John Brown told South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg's defense lawyer on Wednesday at a status hearing that he saw no reason why a trial on three misdemeanor charges couldn't happen by the end of summer.
PIERRE, S.D. — The South Dakota attorney general's trial in his deadly car-pedestrian collision last fall may start as early as August.
But the defense attorney for Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg told Judge John Brown at a status hearing Wednesday, May 12, that he needs more time — 60 days — to review what he called a “mass of evidence” from the Sept. 12 car crash west of Highmore, S.D., and said he has yet to even access files and some interviews. Ravnsborg faces several criminal misdemeanor charges in the case.
“We can then obtain the balance of what it is that we believe is missing,” attorney Timothy Rensch said, calling his request an attempt to provide a “complete picture” at trial.
One complication, added Rensch, was securing a “consulting expert” to reconstruct the crash scene west of Highmore. Many potential investigators, he said, had been “conflicted out” due to contact with the state or past employment with the South Dakota Highway Patrol.
Prosecutor Emily Sovell, the assistant state’s attorney for Hyde County, told Brown the state “did not want the case to linger any longer than necessary,” but she did not object to Rensch’s request for another status hearing in early July.
Ultimately, Brown told both sides he hoped for a late summer or early fall trial, “with an eye to probably having trial in this matter in August or early September.”
“I don’t see any reason why we should go out beyond that,” said Brown, who is a retired judge but stepped back into service for this matter to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest in the high-profile case.
The participants did not appear in-person in the Hughes County courtroom for the rougly six-minute hearing. The judge, Ravnsborg, his attorney, and Sovell participated telephonically.
Members of the family of Joe Boever, the man Ravnsborg hit and killed last fall along U.S. Highway 14 while returning from a Republican fundraiser, sat in the courtroom. Boever’s cousin, Nick Nemec, spoke to reporters after the short hearing.
“It seems to me that if the defense attorney was having issues finding files on a hard drive that he should’ve been talking to the state’s attorney and have her assist him,” Nemec said. “It seems like they’re just dragging it out unnecessarily.”
Earlier this year, the family announced they’d retained an attorney for a possible wrongful death lawsuit against Ravnsborg. On Wednesday, Nemec said that proceeding would not go forward until the completion of the criminal case.
Ravnsborg, who is facing three misdemeanor charges related to using a cellphone while driving and distracted driving, has continued working uninterrupted at his job as attorney general since the crash, though he has faced calls to resign from Gov. Kristi Noem to various law enforcement officials across the state.
Former South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley has also announced his intention to run for his old office.