PIERRE, S.D. — A county judge says he wants to peer into mental health records in order to ascertain whether the man struck and killed by the South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg last year had any reason to jump into the lane of traffic.
At a motions hearing Monday, July 12, Judge John Brown said "fair trial rights do seem to support" granting a motion filed by the Ravnsborg's defense team Friday, July 9, to look at the records — including prescription drug medication and a stay at a state facility.
Ravnsborg faces misdemeanor traffic violation charges — including use of a cellphone while driving — from the Sept. 12 collision that killed Joseph Boever, 55, of Highmore, S.D. Police records show the collision happened along a shoulder of U.S. Highway 14 in Hyde County.
When Brown asked Ravnsborg's counsel what "additional benefit" viewing medical records might provide, defense attorney Timothy Rensch responded, "Timing."
While cellphone data and crash reconstruction experts revealed the car hit Boever completely on the road's shoulder, Rensch suggested on Monday that sequence might not be accurate, and he believes it plausible that his client only crossed the road's bumper strip only after hitting Boever.
Emily Sovell, the assistant state's attorney for Hyde County, objected to "putting Joe Boever" on trial, in her words, during the roughly 20-minute motions hearing in the Hughes County Courthouse on Monday, arguing "the "mindset of the decedent" is "a far stretch" from relevant to the case.
"These are driving infractions," said Sovell, the top prosecutor in Hyde County, where Ravnsborg's Ford Taurus crossed the white line on HIghway 14 and collided violently with Boever, whose pick-up had stalled outside of Highmore. "This is not a homicide case."
But Brown appeared swayed by Rensch, who said his client could be innocent of one driving violation — distracted driving — if they could prove that Boever had previously expressed suicidal thoughts. The information came to light in an email to prosecutors from Boever's cousin, who said that Boever had previously expressed suicidal thoughts related to a pedestrian-traffic collision.
"These circumstances are powerful," said Rensch, who called this revelation "super important."
Brown Monday also announced the August trial, still scheduled for the last Thursday and Friday of the month, will be at the courthouse in Stanley County's seat, Fort Pierre. He said the courthouse in Highmore was too susceptible to late summer heat to hold the trial.