Daschle Called In Janklow Trial

Posted November 26, 2003 at 2:24pm

Rep. Bill Janklow, the fast-driving Republican powerhouse of South Dakota politics, will call on the state’s leading Democrat as part of the defense in his manslaughter trial that opens today.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said last week that he has been called to testify in the Janklow trial. Daschle, in a brief interview before the Senate adjourned for the Thanksgiving holiday, said he wasn’t sure what his testimony would add to the trial.

Prosecutors charged Janklow, a former four-term governor who is serving his first term in the House, with second-degree manslaughter and three misdemeanors after the Aug. 16 collision that killed motorcyclist Randy Scott. The trial is expected to last five days.

Daschle was at a public event in Aberdeen, S.D., with Janklow that afternoon, before the Congressman drove off for the deadly crash. Janklow was late arriving for the event, and Hill sources indicate that the two men — who have been friendly for two decades as the most powerful players in their state’s respective political parties — had minimal interaction at the event.

Daschle was subpoenaed to appear on Janklow’s behalf, indicating that Janklow’s attorneys may want the Senator to talk about Janklow’s demeanor or what he might have seen the Congressman do or eat at the event.

Daschle said he wasn’t sure what questions he would be asked and said he couldn’t ever recall being in a car with Janklow while Janklow drove. But Janklow has hinted that his lawyers are pursuing a line of defense related to Janklow’s diabetes — perhaps that a diabetic attack might have caused the crash.

In that case, Daschle would likely face questions about how Janklow was acting and what if anything he saw Janklow eat at the Aug. 16 event. Sources said Daschle would not be a character witness for Janklow. With the prosecution presenting first, Daschle’s testimony is expected later in the week.

Beyond the question of justice for the family of Scott, the emotionally charged case will impact South Dakota’s immediate political situation. Former Rep. John Thune, a Republican, is mulling whether to challenge Daschle next year or attempt to regain his old House seat now held by Janklow. Thune has indicated he will announce a decision by the end of the year.

Democratic attorney Stephanie Herseth, who lost to Janklow 53 percent to 46 percent last year, already has said she plans to run for the House again regardless of the outcome of Janklow’s trial.

Janklow, who has racked up a dozen speeding tickets in a four-year period, has not contested police reports that he hurled at 71 miles per hour through an intersection marked with a stop sign, fatally clipping Scott’s motorcycle.

The manslaughter charge is a felony with a maximum 10-year prison sentence. A conviction on that charge would trigger an automatic inquiry by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, which would demand that Janklow refrain from voting on the House floor. The 64-year-old lawmaker is also charged with the lesser crimes of reckless driving, speeding and running a stop sign.

South Dakota law defines second-degree manslaughter as the reckless killing of a human being. Moody County prosecutors will aim to convince a jury that Janklow acted recklessly while driving a white Cadillac along a rural road that the lawmaker knew well.

Janklow was driving to his home after attending a ceremony honoring Korean War veterans. Janklow’s chief of staff, Chris Braendlin, was a passenger in the car and has provided statements to police that conflict with Janklow’s recollection of the crash.

The car was owned by Marc Tobias, a lawyer and friend of Janklow’s who has told reporters that he regularly loaned Janklow the Cadillac for trips around the state. The free use of the car may violate the House gift rules and could be considered by the House ethics panel.

Janklow’s attorney, Ed Evans, has so far been successful in winning preliminary rulings that will keep a jury from hearing most of Janklow’s lengthy record of speeding and traffic violations. But Circuit Judge Rodney Steele has allowed evidence to be introduced detailing a near-collision in December 2002 at the same intersection where Scott was killed that shows Janklow was clocked at 92 mph before being pulled over by police.

The prosecutor, Moody County State’s Attorney William Ellingson, submitted to the court last week conflicting statements made on the evening of the crash by Janklow and his aide, according to the Rapid City Journal.

Hours after the accident, Janklow told a state Highway Patrol trooper that he “gunned it” to get around a vehicle and ended up driving through the stop sign and colliding with Scott.

“I was coming down the road, and as I came up to this place, there was a car on the left-hand side of the road that came right across towards me. I was slowing up for that stop sign, and I just raced around it. I gunned around him …” Janklow said at the time, according to a transcript of the videotaped interview.

“No, I wasn’t speeding. I mean, I wasn’t going fast. I just wasn’t driving fast. I don’t even know. Probably 65. There wasn’t any reason to be in a hurry. A lot of times I drive fast by myself. When I tried to — when I tried to miss them, I gunned it.”

But Braendlin told police a different story, telling the same trooper that interviewed Janklow that the lawmaker didn’t speed up but had slowed down just before the crash.

“I do recall seeing a motorcycle going across the intersection, and then something came by us. But he was slowing down. I do remember that. He was slowing down,” Braendlin told the trooper.

The affidavit was the first public comment by Braendlin, who has remained as Janklow’s chief of staff.

While his defense strategy will publicly unfold at trial, Janklow’s first indications of the diabetic defense came during a regular conference call with South Dakota reporters. While engaging in a lengthy discussion of the injuries he suffered from the August accident, Janklow pointedly refused to discuss his diabetes, which was diagnosed in 1999, the Rapid City Journal reported.

“I’m not talking about my case, period,” Janklow said after being asked about his diabetes.