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Janklow resigns from House after conviction
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U.S. Rep. Bill Janklow, R-S.D., resigned his House seat shortly after being convicted of manslaughter in connection with a fatal accident in August. He faces a maximum of 10 years in prison. (MPR Photo/Mark Steil)
Rep. Bill Janklow has resigned his seat in Congress, after his conviction on a felony manslaughter charge related to a fatal accident in August. The South Dakota Republican will send a letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert Tuesday, announcing his resignation effective next month.

Flandreau, S.D. — In the letter to Dennis Hastert, Janklow said that because of present circumstances, "I am and will be unable to perform the duties incumbent upon me in representing the people of South Dakota as their U.S. Representative." Janklow's resignation is effective January 20, 2004, the same day he faces Judge Rodney Steele for sentencing.

Janklow heard the verdict in the Moody County Courthouse in Flandreau. He sat somber and motionless as the jury foreman read the verdicts Monday evening. He didn't look at the jury and jury members didn't look at him.

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Image Randy Scott

Janklow was found guilty of three misdemeanors including speeding, running a stop sign, and reckless driving. The felony second degree manslaughter guilty verdict carries a maximum of 10 years in prison.

Janklow walked steadily and silently out of the courtroom, down the two flights of stairs, while reporters shouted questions.

Janklow kept his head tipped downward. Silently he got into a vehicle driven by his son. Janklow's sisters cried as they left the courthouse.

Over the last week, jurors heard details of what happened on Aug. 16. Janklow was returning to his Brandon home from an appearance at a Korean War Veterans celebration in Aberdeen.

Prosecutors say he was driving more than 70 mph in a white Cadillac, when he ran a stop sign on a rural county road. He drove straight into the path of Randy Scott's Harley Davidson. Scott died instantly.

Prosecutors maintained throughout the trial that Janklow knowingly ran the stop sign on a rural road he's driven hundreds of times. It's a direct route from his mother's house in Flandreau to his home in Brandon.

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Image Victim's mother

Janklow's driving record was made public but couldn't be used as evidence before the jury. Janklow received 12 speeding tickets from 1990 to October 1994. He was elected to a third term as governor a month later, and never received another ticket in the state.

Prosecutors called a former Highway Patrol trooper as a witness. He said he clocked then-Gov. Janklow driving 84 mph in a 40 mph construction zone.

Jurors also heard about a close call involving Janklow at the same intersection where Scott died.

The defense argued that Janklow, who is diabetic, was suffering the effects of low blood sugar at the time of the crash because he had not eaten for 18 hours. They produced several witnesses, including U.S. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, who testified Janklow did not eat.

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

Neither the prosecutors or the defense attornies commented after the verdict. Even Marcella Scott, the mother of the victim, had little to say as she left the courthouse.

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Image Verdict brings closure

"I'm satisfied with the verdict," she said.

Marcella Scott didn't miss one minute of the trial. She sat in the front row next to the jury box. She often hugged prosecution witnesses during breaks in the trial. Several eye witnesses to the accident sat with the family during closing arguments.

Word of the guilty verdict spread quickly to Randy Scott's hometown in Hardwick. At the Green Lantern bar Kraig Rust met with some friends. Rust says he knew Randy Scott and was pleased with the verdict.

"It won't bring Randy back, but it helps put a little closure on it and now we've got the sentencing. Mr. Janklow has been a good man. The problem is he's a terrible driver," says Rust. "I don't know if he's going to lose his House seat or his voting record. I think what they've got to do is take his driver's license away. He's the number one road hazard in South Dakota."

Mr. Janklow has been a good man. The problem is he's a terrible driver. ... What they've got to do is take his driver's license away. He's the number one road hazard in South Dakota.
- Kraig Rust, friend of Randy Scott

Randy Scott, 55, had recently purchased his Harley Davidson motorcycle. On Aug. 16 he was attending a birthday celebration picnic in Pipestone for his ex-wife's father. Scott farmed near Hardwick. He also served on the volunteer fire department.

One of Bill Janklow's close friends said the guilty verdict ends the career of a political powerhouse who has done so much for the state. Marc Tobias was the owner of the Cadillac Janklow was driving.

"This was a tragic accident. He didn't want it to happen. He didn't go through a stop sign thinking he was going to kill somebody. It was a Saturday afternoon that changed everybody's lives. And that's what it is," says Tobias. "He's no different than anyone else as far as the criminal justice system -- we've seen that today. He believed in the system and he took his chances with it."

Janklow has had enormous power in South Dakota for nearly three decades. Janklow was the state attorney general for four years in the 1970s, before serving 16 years as governor. He was elected to South Dakota's lone House seat last year. Janklow is known for his tough talking-maverick style.

Political scientist Bill Richardson says Janklow's resignation is a sign that he's doing the right thing. Richardson, of the University of South Dakota, says Janklow's political influence in South Dakota may not be over. Richardson says the legal issues around this accident will surround Janklow for several years. But he says he can see Janklow taking an elder statesman role in politics.

"If Richard Nixon can rehabilitate himself, if Jimmy Carter can rebuild himself. Bill Clinton appears to be rehabilitating himself -- from the image the public had of them because of much more willful acts," says Richardson. "I certainly think that Bill Janklow would be a significant force in the state if he chooses to continue to work behind the scenes."

The election to fill South Dakota's soon-to be vacant U.S. House seat will be held in conjunction with the June 1, 2004 primary. Secretary of State Chris Nelson says the Democratic and Republican parties will nominate a candidate for the special election by April 6.

South Dakotans will cast two votes in the House race on June 1. In one, they'll fill the remaining six months of Janklow's term. In the second, they'll choose the party candidate for the November election. Nelson says holding the election with the primary will save the state about $400,000.

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