Convicted 1987 child killer, Debra Jenner, granted parole in unpublicized hearing

Investigates

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — It’s one of South Dakota’s most infamous child-murder cases. The mother who brutally killed her three-year-old daughter in 1987 and then denied it for years has been granted parole.

Now 64-years-old, Debra Jenner was convicted of stabbing Abby Lynn Jenner more than 70 times with a toy metal airplane and a kitchen knife. Evidence at the crime scene showed the little girl tried to defend herself because she was clutching hair in her hands.

Jenner was sentenced to life in prison and appealed her conviction several times, claiming someone else killed Abby.


However, Jenner eventually admitted to the crime and after more than a dozen parole hearings, this month the parole board granted her request to get out of prison. Jenner’s September parole hearing was kept quiet by state officials.

Jenner and KELOLAND’s Angela Kennecke had a brief conversation in the library of the women’s prison when KELOLAND News was investigating problems in the prison system in 2016. Jenner reportedly has been a model prisoner, helping inmates study for their GEDs.

Jenner’s case has long-fascinated the public not only because of how grizzly it was, but also because she repeatedly appealed her conviction, claiming someone else killed her daughter.

In 2003, then-Governor Bill Janklow cut her sentence from life in prison to 100 years in return for Jenner finally admitting that she murdered Abby. However, every time she came before the parole board in the past, she was denied because of her years of lying and blaming others for the crime.

The 1987 murder of 3-and-a-half-year-old Abby in her home rocked the Huron community.

“I saw them carry her out and it looked like blood all over her,” a neighbor said in April 1987.

“I’ve heard rumors about this being some type of cult killing. But we don’t have any information to confirm that,” then-Attorney General Roger Tellinghised said in 1987.

Evidence from the crime scene was sent to a Chicago lab for testing and a month went by with no arrests. Then a grand jury convened.

“We have a definite suspect at this point, but I’m not ready to disclose who that person is,” then-Attorney General Roger Tellinghuisen said in 1987.

Jenner was arrested, charged with murder and underwent a three-week trial, in which the jury found her guilty.

After one of her many parole hearings, former parole board chairman Dan Nichols said in 2008:

“I think her life sentence without parole is probably appropriate in the first place.”

Dan Nichols

When it comes to Jenner’s most recent parole hearing this month, the South Dakota Board of Pardon’s and Paroles only listed its agenda for Thursday, September 16 online and Jenner was not on that list.

Our news cameras were present at the Thursday parole hearing for Joaquin Ramos.

KELOLAND Investigates discovered after the fact through the board’s meeting minutes that a parole hearing had been held for Jenner on Wednesday, but it slid right under the radar because the schedule was never released.

The board approved Jenner’s release from prison by a vote of 6 to 3, subject to a psychological evaluation and ordered no contact with children without approval by her parole officer.

Beadle County Sheriff’s Deputy Jim Sheridan was one of the original investigators on the case. While he was on the parole board for 13 years, he recused himself from Jenner’s hearings. In 2003, Sheridan told KELOLAND News:

“She’s entitled to come up for parole every eight months now. Abby is not going to get that opportunity. She’d be 19 today,” Sheridan told KELOLAND News in 2003.

KELOLAND News spoke to Sheridan, who is now retired from the Beadle County Sheriff’s Office. He said that he doesn’t think Jenner is going to harm anyone and that she paid her dues and he expects her to follow the rules of her parole.

According to the Department of Corrections website, Jenner is currently being housed in the Pierre Community Work Center, which is adjacent to the Women’s Prison. KELOLAND News asked the DOC why there wasn’t public notice online of Jenner’s recent parole hearing. Michael Winder of the Department of Corrections told us agendas are posted online. However, there was no mention of Jenner in the posted agenda. Winder also referred us to the Board of Pardons and Paroles for details on Jenner’s hearing, but when we called the board, the person answering the phone said all media calls had to go through Winder.

We received the following statement from Jenner’s attorney:

“Ms. Jenner’s hearing on September 15, 2021, was conducted in the same manner as other parole hearings. Her parole consideration and the subsequent determination are both publicly available documents on South Dakota’s Boards and Commissions website. A SAVIN notification was also sent in advance of and following the hearing – both via email and via text message. Parole’s objective is rehabilitation. Ms. Jenner is grateful for the opportunity to continue to work on herself and to support her aging parents.”

Raleigh Hansman, Debra Jenner’s attorney

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