Jury Convicts Rep. Janklow in Fatal Crash
A hometown jury deliberated just five hours Monday before convicting Rep. William J. Janklow, the state’s only congressman, of manslaughter for killing a motorcyclist after running a stop sign.
Hours later, the Republican announced he would resign from Congress, effective Jan. 20, the date of his sentencing hearing.
“I am and will be unable to perform the duties incumbent upon me in representing the people of South Dakota,” Janklow said in a letter, which he intended to submit today to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.). “Representing the people of South Dakota in all the capacities that I have over the years has brought a treasure of memories and friends.”
Janklow, 64, faces up to 11 years in prison and an $11,000 fine for the second-degree felony conviction and several lesser charges -- including speeding, running a stop sign and reckless driving.
The collision on a rural road in August killed Randolph E. Scott, 55, a farmer from Minnesota. The congressman broke his hand and suffered a head injury in the crash.
As the jury entered the tiny courtroom Monday, Janklow, wearing a dark blue suit and striped tie, chewed gum and studied the wall behind the judge’s bench. There, an oversized watercolor portrait of the three faces of Lady Justice -- liberty, balance and punishment -- looked down upon the room.
Jury foreman James G. Mitchell stood up to announce the verdict, and the color in Janklow’s face drained. None of the jurors looked at Janklow, and only a few glanced at Scott’s family and friends, who sat in the rows opposite the Janklows.
With each “guilty,” Janklow’s face appeared to turn a darker shade of red. His daughter Shonna sat with tears running down her cheeks. A quiet, breathy “Oh, my God” came from somewhere in the Scott family’s row.
“I can’t believe it,” said Marcella Scott, the victim’s mother.
As Janklow left the courtroom, his son Russell and daughter walked over to the Scott family. One by one, Russell shook their hands and offered his condolences. Shonna walked up to Brandee Scott, Randolph Scott’s daughter. The two young women looked at each other for a moment, then clung in a tight hug, sobbing quietly.
“I’m relieved it is over,” Brandee Scott said later.
Janklow and his attorneys declined to comment after the verdict, as did prosecutors Roger Ellyson and William Ellingson.
Earlier in the day, Ellyson, in closing arguments, had likened Janklow’s driving to “a deadly game of Russian roulette.” The deputy prosecutor called Janklow an “unbelievably awful and menacing” driver whose “arrogance says my time is more important than your safety.”
The congressman’s habit of speeding was legendary. He even joked about it when he was governor in a 1999 state of the state address: “Bill Janklow speeds when he drives -- shouldn’t, but he does. When he gets the ticket he pays it, but if someone told me I was going to jail for two days for speeding, my driving habits would change.”
Janklow got 12 speeding tickets from 1990 to 1994. He did not receive another ticket in the state after he was elected to his third term as governor in 1994.
Janklow tried “to cover up the truth.... He knows the trouble he’s in,” Ellyson told jurors Monday. “He couldn’t say, ‘I was driving so fast I couldn’t stop.’ He couldn’t say, ‘I always ignore these rural stop signs.’ That would be admitting to manslaughter.”
The defense had argued that Janklow, a diabetic, hadn’t eaten anything the day of the crash and that his reactions had been slowed by hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar.
Janklow explained that a tight work schedule had prevented him from eating any meals after taking his insulin -- despite the fact that the politician knew the risks.
In testimony Saturday, Janklow had insisted that he remembered nothing about the traffic collision. But he did admit that he had run stop signs in the past and that he routinely exceeded the speed limit.
Janklow aides said late Monday that his letter of resignation would to go to Hastert this morning. A special election to fill his seat will be held during the state’s June 1 primary. Whoever wins that contest will serve until November’s election.
There was speculation that Republican John R. Thune -- who previously held that seat -- might run. Another possible candidate was Republican state Sen. Larry Diedrich, who wanted to run for the House seat in 2002 but opted not to after Janklow entered the race.
“It is a Republican state; it is a Republican seat,” Carl Forti, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Monday. “We would fully expect to hold this seat in a special election.”
Stephanie Herseth, a Democrat who lost to Janklow by 7 percentage points in 2002, announced in October that she would try again next year.
For decades, Janklow has been a popular figure in his home state. The onetime state attorney general served four terms as governor before running for the state’s House seat in 2002.
Monday’s verdict came as a shock to many residents of this farming community of 2,300. Few people here expected that a small-town prosecutor equipped with a limited budget could compete against the high-powered politician and his highly paid legal team -- let alone beat them.
At the Fat Boys Bar, a tavern half a block from the courthouse, owner Denny Erickson shook his head and said, “It’s a sad end to a good political career.”
As the jury left the courthouse and declined to comment on the case, Janklow slipped a warm winter parka over his suit and headed home.
When asked whether he would talk about the verdict, Janklow shook his head and kept his eyes focused on the ground. “Not now, thanks,” he said.
Limping through a layer of snow that blanketed the courthouse parking lot, the politician and his son slipped into their sport utility vehicle and drove away. Janklow sat in the passenger seat.
Times staff writer Janet Hook in Washington contributed to this report.