Wessington Springs, SD
A tragic case of underage drinking in Wessington Springs has come to a close.
A judge sentenced 20-year-old Tanner Easton to 60 days in jail and three years probation for pleading guilty to drunk driving and manslaughter. The prosecutor asked for six years in prison and doesn't think the penalty was stiff enough, but the forgiveness of the victims' families spared Easton from a harsher sentence.
"Their families all knew each other, they've grieved together, they have mourned together and they still care about each other," Tanner Easton's attorney Mike Butler said.
Easton didn't make it around a corner on 220th street in northern Jerauld County early December 5. The SUV he was driving rolled, hurting two of his friends, and killing 17-year-old Jasmyn Knippling.
"Taking a life, to a good person, is a tragedy that stays with them forever, and I can assure you Tanner has been devastated which the judge is well aware of," Butler said.
Easton pleaded guilty and the judge sentenced him to 60 days in jail and three years probation. Jerauld County States Attorney Casey Bridgman doesn't think that's enough.
"Penitentiary time was warranted because another person was killed because of Tanner Easton's reckless acts," Bridgman said.
When arguing for a 6-year sentence Bridgman pointed out that Easton had two prior underage drinking tickets and admitted to drinking since he was 16. When he crashed, his blood alcohol level was also 0.14, nearly two times the legal limit.
"Again, in a death case where Jasmyn has no more life, and the family has to live with this the rest of his life, I thought Mr. Easton should have to live with this the rest of his life as well," Bridgman said.
But, Easton's attorney says his client has remorse, and Knippling's family and families of the other teens wrote letters to the judge asking for leniency. Butler read them to us.
"'Losing one teenager is one too many. Let Tanner have an opportunity to show he can be an asset to society. I want to give him a chance to make better,' Mike Butler said as he read from the letter of a family member.
"Those are comments from family members of these young people involved, I've never seen that," Butler said.
Judge David Gienapp says he took those words into account.
"The victims families did not want him to go to the penitentiary, and I think he'll turn out to be a good citizen. Had this one disaster in his life," Gienapp said.
Gienapp does not believe Easton will re-offend. That's why he gave him a second chance.
"There was no purpose in sending him to the penitentiary. There's no question from what I saw and know, this has been very hard on him," Gienapp said.
"When a person kills another person they should have remorse, it should affect their life, they should feel sorry for that. But, just because they feel sorry and have remorse doesn't mean that they should get off with any penalty," Bridgman said.
"He'll pay for it for the rest of his life in more ways than people really know," Butler said.
Easton's family also argued for leniency because his older brother is battling cancer right now, and they want them to be able to spend more time together.
Judge Gienapp's sentence also allows Easton's charges to be wiped off his record if he successfully completes probation, allowing him to be a productive member of society some day.