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Justice is Served, Sadly So

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Every once in a while, my teetering faith in the judicial system gets a boost, particularly when a jury finds a famous, wealthy, and/or powerful person guilty of a crime for which the prosecution had a boatload of convincing evidence. Usually, they walk free [a big hello to OJ and Robert Durst].

But once in a while, a Winona Ryder gets her legal due, shocked as she is for actually being found guilty of stealing, when in fact all she did was borrow without asking.

I guess I shouldn’t be making jokes about Winona when I’m planning to talk about South Dakota’s Bill Janklow case, because there’s really nothing funny about it.

According to police, Janklow was behind the wheel of his Cadillac on August 16 when he ran a stop sign at a rural intersection about 10 miles south of Flandreau.

Scott, of Hardwick, Minnesota, crashed into the side of Janklow’s car and was killed.

Prosecutors said Janklow was driving at least 70 mph in a 55 mph zone at the time.

Janklow was found guilty of second degree manslaughter yesterday. I’m amazed: I think the verdict is just, but I never expected it to be. The guy had home field advantage like nobody’s business.

The Deck Was Stacked … In His Favor

First, he’s popular and powerful in his home state. The man served as South Dakota state attorney general for four years and governor for 16 years. He’s now [at least until January 20] the lone House Representative from South Dakota. And, second, he was being tried for a serious crime in the rural community in which he grew up.

When I first read that he was charged, I immediately thought that there was no way he’d be found guilty of a serious offense. Maybe a slap on the wrist, but not much more. But it seems the case against him was very strong, and the jurors didn’t buy his “I’m a diabetic and didn’t eat for 18 hours so I’m not responsible” defense. They reached their verdict in less than a day.

No Fingers In Justice’s Eye

I guess sometimes justice really is blind, and jurors can put aside the fame, power, and wealth of a defendant and just look at the facts of the case.

Janklow is an unapologetic speeder and reckless driver. He told prosecutors that he “does speed when he drives and he has run stop signs but that he would not speed through a blind intersection on purpose.”

Oh. I see.

And in a 1999 speech to the state Legislature, he said:

“Bill Janklow speeds when he drives – shouldn’t, but he does,” Janklow said then. “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.”

In one notorious instance, two reporters were riding with Janklow when he made a 99-mph mad dash, through heavy smoke, down a mountain highway in the Black Hills to escape a raging forest fire in 2002. Janklow had tried to go faster, but the computer in his sport utility vehicle kept the engine from going past 99 mph.

I’m amazed that Janklow has killed only one person [that we know about] in his lifetime. He sounds like an aggressive, arrogant driver who for some reason believed that the worst result of speeding — and I mean REALLY speeding — is a ticket, which you then pay and forget about.

Luck Runs Out

Unfortunately, Janklow’s attitude and dangerous driving finally caught up to him and his victim. With his aggressiveness, he ended someone’s life and ruined his own. The jury rightly convicted him of second degree manslaughter, as well as speeding, running a stop sign, and reckless driving. He now faces up to ten years in prison.

So it was a good day for justice, but still a very sad day. But maybe Janklow’s case will remind the rest of us how dangerous the roads are, how much we take our safety for granted every time we get in a car, and that speed limits exist for a reason.

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About bhw

  • Eric Olsen

    Excellent job bhw and I agree with your conclusions: it is amazing the sense of entitlement and being above the law that big fish in small ponds can develop and not have challenged until it is too late. This is a tragedy, but at least justice prevailed. Remember celebrity can cut both ways in the judicial system.