'One of the most heinous crimes I've seen': South Dakota man gets 90 years in prison for raping 7-year-old

“It is very clear you are a menace to society and a danger to society,” Judge Chris Giles said to Robert Gerstenecker, 43, of Mitchell, who was shackled in his jail uniform during the hearing.

Robert Gerstenecker, right, is escorted to his sentencing hearing on Tuesday by Davison County Sheriff Steve Harr. Gerstenecker was sentenced for first-degree rape of a minor.
Sam Fosness / Republic
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MITCHELL, S.D. — A man who raped a 7-year-old victim was sentenced Tuesday, Dec. 20, to 90 years in prison for what Judge Chris Giles dubbed as “one of the most heinous crimes” he’s ever seen.

Giles rejected a plea agreement reached between Davison County state prosecuting attorneys and Robert Gerstenecker, 43, of Mitchell. That deal would have seen Gerstenecker sentenced to 75 years in prison.

Instead, Giles tacked on 15 more years.

After pleading guilty to first-degree rape of a minor in late September, Gerstenecker was facing up to life in prison for the Class C felony.

“It is very clear you are a menace to society and a danger to society,” Giles said to Gerstenecker, who was shackled in his jail uniform during the hearing.


For the first time since being arrested, Gerstenecker spoke on Tuesday about the crimes he committed. In an apologetic tone, Gerstenecker asked for forgiveness and an opportunity to change.

“I will forever be truly sorry for my actions and also for the ramifications of them,” Gerstenecker said. “I pray for forgiveness, and I want to change. I hope I have that chance.”

A comment from Gerstenecker in the pre-sentencing reports was alarming for Giles, who said it revealed Gerstenecker has “no idea” how his actions will impact the victim for the rest of her life.

“You have a comment where you make reference to the victim and say, ‘She probably prays each night’ to have you back into her life,” Giles said.

Authorities searched Gerstenecker’s residence after law enforcement received a tip on April 11 alleging that child pornography was spotted on Gerstenecker’s live feed during a video call. The reporting party managed to take screenshots of what they believed to be child pornography material, which were then turned over to law enforcement.

A memory card that authorities obtained in Gerstenecker’s Mitchell residence showing video footage of what special agents believed to be Gerstenecker engaging in sexual acts with a minor under the age of 13 led to the first-degree rape charge, according to court documents.

Special agents with the state’s Department of Criminal Investigation (DCI) determined the sexual acts occurred between Oct. 4, 2021, and Jan. 29, 2022.

According to court documents, the cellphone that had the memory card containing child pornography and video of the rape was found hidden between a mattress and box spring inside Gerstenecker’s residence.


He was indicted by a grand jury on April 13 and charged with 10 counts of child pornography, one count of first-degree rape of a victim under the age of 13, one count of sexual contact with a child under the age of 16 and possession of methamphetamine. As part of the plea deal, the slew of child pornography charges and drug possession were dismissed.

During Tuesday’s sentencing hearing, Davison County Deputy State’s Attorney Robert O’Keefe pointed to the details of Gerstenecker’s crimes as “some of the most egregious facts” he’s ever seen in his time as a prosecutor.

Attorney Richard Rylance attempted to have Gerstenecker’s sentence reduced to 60 years in prison with 40 years suspended, citing Gerstenecker’s remorse and “very low possibility of recidivism.”

Gerstenecker’s 90-year prison sentence took effect immediately after the sentencing hearing.

Sam Fosness joined the Mitchell Republic in May 2018. He was raised in Mitchell, S.D., and graduated from Mitchell High School. He continued his education at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, where he graduated in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in English. During his time in college, Fosness worked as a news and sports reporter for The Volante newspaper.
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