PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Jason Ravnsborg didn’t show. Instead his defense lawyer, Tim Rensch from Rapid City, sat alone before the judge in the Hughes County courthouse Friday afternoon, prepared to enter not-guilty pleas on behalf of the South Dakota attorney general for three misdemeanor traffic crimes.
Also in the courtroom, seated apart, were the widow of Joe Boever, up front just behind the defense lawyer, and his mother, off back on the prosecution’s side, along with other relatives of the man whom Ravnsborg ran over and killed.
The estranged wife, Jenny Boever, came in with Sioux Falls attorney Scott Heidepriem, who is preparing to file a civil lawsuit against Ravnsborg for the death.
Investigators concluded that Boever’s heart burst instantly when he was struck by the personal vehicle Ravnsborg was driving the night of September 12, 2020, while Boever was walking along the north shoulder of US 14 at the west edge of Highmore. The official report shows Ravnsborg’s Ford was on the shoulder at the moment of the crash. He was driving back to Pierre from a Republican event in Redfield.
The prosecutor, Hyde County deputy state’s attorney Emily Sovell, arrived at the courthouse about an hour before the 4 p.m. proceeding. A notice on the front door said retired Circuit Judge John Brown had issued a one-day order banning recording devices and interviews on the third floor where the proceeding would occur.
Inside the courtroom, Patrick Callahan from the South Dakota Broadcasters Association was finishing set-up of audio equipment that would allow news organizations to hear afterward a recording. While permitted under state court rules, it required advance arrangements and wasn’t standard practice.
The courtroom doors were locked when I arrived at about 3 p.m. Waiting on a bench was one of Joe Boever’s first cousins, Nick Nemec, a farmer from rural Hyde County and a former Democratic legislator, who has become a watchdog for the family in the case. Nemec had gone to the state Capitol a few days before and testified, accompanied by a jade plant that Boever grew, as a House committee amended a resolution calling for representatives to impeach Ravnsborg.
We talked while we waited to get in. He wore a brown farm jacket over a grey hooded sweatshirt and jeans. On the watered-down version of the impeachment resolution that the House passed, 57-11, he said, “It was a sham. They could have tabled it and accomplished the same thing.”
The judge walked past, wearing a leather jacket, his black judicial robe on a hangar over a shoulder, and went into the central office with the names of the three current judges, all women, were painted on the window.
Rensch, the defense lawyer, walked past us a bit later. He went into the courtroom through the unlocked door that lawyers use to enter.
Nemec and I were let in about 3:30 p.m. Rensch was seated at the defense table. Nemec took the spot in the front row directly behind him. Rensch wore a blue business suit, white shirt and blue tie, his blue mask accented by aqua and orange edges.
The judge came in, still in the leather jacket, and arranged things at the bench. Brown, a Republican former legislator and rancher before taking up the law, asked Nemec when he last served in the Legislature. Nemec said 1996: “A generation ago.”
The prosecutor, Sovell, and Beadle County state’s attorney Michael Moore entered the courtroom at 3:39 p.m. She wore a black jacket and pants. She shook hands with Rensch, they briefly discussed some things in voices I couldn’t hear, and then she and Moore went back out.
A few minutes later, Heidepriem came into the courtroom, along with the widow and a few others. She wore a straight gray knit dress and studded western boots. I got up and moved from the front row to the third row in the back. Nemec slid to the far end.
A few minutes after that, members of the Boever family came in. They sat in the back of two rows marked “Reserved” on the other side. Spread across the front row on that side were five news reporters representing three regional newspapers, the Associated Press, and a TV station. Another reporter, from a Pierre radio station, was on the side where I was.
Judge Brown re-entered, this time in his robe, around 4 p.m. He told the attorneys they could remove their masks if it would help their pronunciation. Rensch and Sovell did.
Rensch gave the judge an ‘advisement of rights’ form that Ravnsborg had signed. The judge read it. Sovell had charged Ravnsborg with three second-class misdemeanors. The judge read them: Operating a vehicle while on a mobile device, improper lane change and careless driving.
The judge said Ravnsborg had indicated on the form that he would plead not-guilty and Rensch confirmed it. Rensch said that as long as they were all there there should be an arraignment, when a defendant formally enters pleas to criminal charges. Then Rensch suggested a status hearing in 60 days.
“At this point, we’d enter a not guilty plea, and we would ask that the court set this matter up for a status hearing in 60 days, so that we can go through the discovery,” Rensch said in the audio recording of Friday’s proceedings. “In some cases there’s a mountain of discovery. In this case there’s a mountain range of discovery, literal computer drives and everything.”
Sovell said she had no objection.
Judge Brown said that because he’s retired he didn’t have control of the court schedule. “Sixty days is going to put us in mid-May,” the judge said. He said they would communicate by email to arrange a specific date.