PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The South Dakota Supreme Court has vacated the sentence of a Yankton man who admitted to killing another and ordered that he be resentenced.
Jameson Mitchell pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter in the April 6, 2019, shooting death of Lucas Smith during a confrontation outside Mojo’s bar in Yankton. Circuit Judge Cheryle Gering sentenced Mitchell to 124 years in prison.
The two had fought inside the bar and then were ejected through different doors. The 22-year-old Mitchell got a .38-caliber handgun and returned to the alley outside the bar. Smith ran at Mitchell, yelling “shoot me” according to surveillance video.
Justice Mark Salter wrote that this case was the Supreme Court’s first opportunity to consider an imperfect self-defense.
“There is no question that the circuit court exercised a careful review of Mitchell’s history and characteristics, but it effectively treated Mitchell as solely responsible for Smith’s killing without considering Smith’s own criminal conduct,” the justice wrote.
He noted the two had grown up together and, as boys, Smith had at times bullied Mitchell, who was two years younger.
Salter concluded, “Still, the fact remains that Mitchell purposefully armed himself and went to the alley where, as Smith’s parents painfully observed, he ‘took a life.’ This was a gravely serious offense, and we can understand the circuit court’s inclination to impose a stern sentence. However, in order to accurately assess the nature of Mitchell’s conduct, the court must consider the fact that he was reacting to a threat posed by Smith’s own assaultive conduct.”
Justice Patricia DeVaney wrote a special concurrence to the Supreme Court decision, which was publicly released Thursday.
Justice DeVaney said the Supreme Court was presented with “a unique record — the killing of the victim was captured on video.
“The events immediately preceding the fatal shooting make it abundantly clear why the State agreed in this case to dismiss the murder charges in exchange for a manslaughter plea. It is likewise understandable why the State would agree to cap its sentencing recommendation to 60 years—a stern sentence, nevertheless, for a case with these facts,” DeVaney wrote.
She continued, “There is also no question that a sentencing court is free to disregard the recommendations of the parties, as well as those of the PSI (presentence investigation) author if, in the court’s judgment, a much higher sentence is warranted. But in this case, after watching the video and reviewing the PSI, it is apparent that a 124-year sentence— more than twice that recommended by those most familiar with the parties and the facts of the case—was not a choice within ‘the range of permissible choices[.]'”