Janklow is found guilty in fatal crash

S. Dakota congressman says he'll resign after manslaughter conviction

December 09, 2003|By Flynn McRoberts | Flynn McRoberts,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

The jury in Rep. Bill Janklow's hometown deliberated for about five hours yesterday before convicting him of manslaughter in a traffic accident that killed a motorcyclist.

Janklow, the favorite son of Flandreau, S.D., took even less time after the verdict was read to announce his own decision: South Dakota's only member of the House of Representatives and a political giant in the state for decades said he would resign from Congress.

His abrupt resignation gives the Republican Party as much time as possible to mount a campaign to defend his seat. A special election will be held during the June 1 primary to fill the rest of his term.

Janklow, 64, once told the state legislature that if someone told him he would go to jail for two days for his notorious speeding, "my driving habits would change."

With his conviction, he could get up to 10 years in prison.

Janklow appeared stunned by the verdict: guilty of second-degree manslaughter, reckless driving, running a stop sign and speeding. He left the courthouse without responding to questions shouted by reporters.

Prosecutors said the congressman was traveling more than 70 m.p.h. Aug. 16 and blew through the stop sign when a Harley-Davidson ridden by Randy Scott, 55, a farmer from Hardwick, Minn., slammed into the left rear door of Janklow's 1995 Cadillac at the intersection of County Roads 13 and 14.

His resignation apparently puts an end to one of the most celebrated political careers in South Dakota history. Janklow was elected to the House last year after serving four years as attorney general in the 1970s and 16 years as governor.

"I wish to inform you that because of present circumstances, I will be unable to perform the duties incumbent on me in representing the people of South Dakota as their U.S. representative," Janklow wrote in a letter that he said was to be sent to House Speaker Dennis Hastert today. "Therefore I wish to inform you that I will resign from the House of Representatives effective Jan. 20, 2004."

That is the date Janklow is scheduled to be sentenced on his manslaughter conviction.

During his time as governor, Janklow won over legions of voters in heavily conservative South Dakota with his tough talk. And many in Flandreau had expected his power, prestige and local connections to result in an acquittal at his trial.

While his style endeared him to many, his perceived arrogance grated on others who have vented their views since he went on trial in Moody County Courthouse in Flandreau.

"Well, he got what he had coming. He done it. He killed a man," said Roy Schramm, 58, who worked for the state highway department for 37 years, including 16 while Janklow was governor. "It's the quietest I've ever seen him, when he walked out of the courthouse."

Others were more forgiving.

Ed Duncan, co-owner of Flandreau Bakery & Coffee Bar, said he was surprised at the conviction, in part because he thought Janklow's defense suggested a plausible explanation for the accident: that the congressman, a diabetic, was disoriented from low blood sugar levels because he hadn't eaten in 18 hours.

In his closing argument, defense lawyer Ed Evans said investigators quickly concluded Janklow must have sped through the stop sign, and he said they were not interested in finding out whether a diabetic condition was to blame.

But deputy prosecutor Roger Ellyson called the diabetes defense "goofy," saying Janklow concocted the defense as an excuse for his reckless driving.

Tribune news services contributed to this report. The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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