Crime victims left in the dark

Investigates

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Child killer Debra Jenner was let out on parole last month, without any public notification, until KELOLAND Investigates broke the story nearly two weeks later.

KELOLAND Investigates has also revealed flaws in the system designed to inform victims of what’s happening with an offender, such as coming up for parole or getting out of prison.

We pick up our investigation into problems with the South Dakota Board of Pardons and Parole procedures and violations of victims’ rights with yet another case.

Our latest KELOLAND News Investigation looks into how victims of older crimes are left in the dark by the system that’s supposed to protect them.

32-years ago, this month, Dawn Aspaas and her daughter, who was just nine at the time, were the victims of a horrific crime.

Dawn Aspaas is the victim of a horrific 1989 crime

“I’ve worked for years to repair from this; years. And every October comes around and there’s a couple of weeks where I remember it,” Aspaas said.

Aspaas and her daughter were alone when two young men entered their Sioux Falls home through a basement window, to carry out a gang initiation.

“And they broke into our room, my daughter and I were sleeping in our bed. And they broke into my room and three hours and forty-five minutes of torture. They were torturing my daughter,” Aspass said.

Even though Aspass and her family have worked hard to heal from the trauma, the pain is just right below the surface.

“As a mom, there’s nothing worse than not being able to protect your child. It’s just… I was in another room being raped and beaten. Every time Liza would scream, he would beat me to quiet her down and all I kept praying for was to get my daughter out alive. But she was being tortured. They had a switchblade at her throat for this three hours and forty-five minutes–laughing, licking her, and flicking the switchblade on and off on her,” Aspaas said.

Levi Flute was 19 at the time and David Arapahoe was just 17. After hours of torture, they forced Aspaas and her daughter into her car and made her drive to the ATM. Aspaas says they planned to kill them and dump them into the gravel pit at Arrowhead Park, but her car ran out of gas.

“So we parked. He was hitting me. Liza was crying. I mean he kept hitting me when Liza would cry and I was just trying to keep her calm. And I said a prayer and I remember saying, God please just tell me what to do to get my daughter safe. And the words came out of my mouth. I looked in the rearview mirror and I saw these little wolf eyes. The scary look was there and I said, “What would your mother think of you right now?” And the eyes went to this little brown-eyed boy and he hit my shoulder and he hit the other guy and said, “Get out.” and he said, you don’t move because I’ll come back and kill you.”

Dawn Aspaas, victim of 1989 rape, beating and kidnapping

Aspaas was eventually able to get herself and her daughter to safety.

Flute who was already awaiting sentencing for an aggravated assault charge, got 120 years in prison for the crimes.

Here’s what he had to say to KELOLAND News in 1990:

Levi FLute (1990): “I already said I’m sorry.”
Aspaas (1990): “He’s an animal and he needs to be put away.”

KELOLAND News coverage of the case in 1990

Arapahoe was sentenced to 25 years, and let out on parole after 9 years.

“When Arapahoe got out; didn’t know he was out. They went to my husband’s office and scared the office to death. And they walked in, looking for me,” Aspaas said.

KELOLAND Investigates checked on Arapahoe’s status and discovered that he has absconded from parole.

Kennecke: So I checked with the Department of Corrections and I said, ‘Well what does this mean?’ Well, that means we don’t know where he is.
Aspaas: That’s great. I didn’t know that. I thought he was back in jail.
Kennecke: What’s the problem with you not knowing that?
Aspaas: It’s awful. Now that I know he’s really out, I’m scared to death.

Aspaas has always worried about what Flute may do if he ever gets out, because she says he threatened her before he went to prison.

“He said, ‘No matter what, I’ll get you someday, You won’t know when. You won’t know where. It might be 20 years from now, but I’ll get you,'” Aspaas said.

Flute came up for parole just last week. The specifics on Flute’s hearing were never put out in an agenda by the Board of Pardons and Parole. While KELOLAND Investigates was able to determine the time of his hearing and obtain a link from the board of pardons and paroles, but when we tried to join to via Zoom, we were removed from what was supposed to be a public meeting.

Even though Aspaas sent a letter to officials at the time of the crime, stating she wanted to be notified of upcoming hearings, and also attempted to inform the Department of Corrections when she moved, she has never received any notification of Flute’s parole hearings.

Kennecke: If you had been notified that Flute was up for parole, right around the time this crime happened 32 years ago, would you have been at that hearing?
Aspaas: I would have had everyone I know there, yes.
Kennecke: I checked with the AG’s office and I said, ‘Why weren’t you informed?’ And I was told it was because you hadn’t signed up for SAVIN.
Aspaas: I didn’t know about SAVIN. I’ve never heard of it.

“If you’ve got a case from 30 years ago, obviously the person is not going to be signed up for SAVIN. But anecdotally there are complaints that people who are signed up for SAVIN aren’t getting information and not knowing when hearings are taking place,” director of the University of South Dakota’s criminal justice program, Sandy McKeown said.

McKeown says there is a lot of confusion over how victims can exercise their rights under Marsy’s Law and that the automatic notification system known as SAVIN isn’t a simple solution to guarantee all those rights.

“There are really no consequences for failing to abide by the victims’s rights statute. If there are no consequences and there’s not really a ton of support to begin with, It’s hardly surprising that we are five years out and this is what victims are experiencing. It’s not even remotely surprising.”

Sandy McKeown, USD, Director of Criminal Justice Program

The parole board told KELOLAND Investigates that we’d have to wait days to learn its decision on Flute getting out.

When we got the information two days later, we told Aspaas that Flute’s parole was denied.

Aspaas: I’m completely relieved. I’m safe from that. However you just gave me the news (that Arapahoe has absconded) that I’m not sure I am safe, so I just need to know as much as I can. I feel like we’re still protecting them and not the victim
Kennecke: What did Flute and Arapahoe take from you and your daughter?
Aspaas: Oh, oh, they took my baby girl from me. She had to grow up fast; not trust. Our relationship is way different. She was my baby girl. We did everything together and as of today, there’s just this wall. I love her so much, but there’s a wall.

Under South Dakota law, the attorney general’s office is supposed to notify any victim of the SAVIN system and how to access it. The AG’s office tells KELOLAND Investigates the responsibility has been passed on to state’s attorneys and victim’s witness specialists. He also notes that the SAVIN system didn’t go live until 26 years after Flute was sentenced.

KELOLAND Investigates received the following explanation from South Dakota Attorney General Chief of Staff, Tim Bormann:

It appears that Mr. Flute was sentenced in April of 1990.  The portion of codified law you are referring to is in Chapter 23A-28C, the Crime Victim’s Act.  This Act became law in South Dakota on July 1, 1991.  After Flute’s sentencing.  The responsibility to retroactively inform a victim of these rights was not a part of the Crime Victim’s Act.  Furthermore, the victim must advise the prosecutor of their desire to participate in the process.

The statute you include was enacted in 2013, it sets forth that the SAVIN system would be established and states that the Office of the Attorney General shall promulgate rules to ensure that a victim can take part.  The SAVIN System did not go live until 2016 (over 26 years following Flute’s sentencing).   

Once SAVIN went live the promulgated rules you reference were passed on to State’s Attorneys and Victim’s Witness Specialists to assist individuals in taking part in SAVIN, if they so choose.  It is important to remember that SAVIN is a voluntary service available to any persons who wish to register.  State’s Attorneys and Victim Witness Specialists can (now) either register victims or provide them the materials to go to the website and register themselves.  No person is registered without their knowledge.  It is also the responsibility of a SAVIN user to maintain and update their registration. 

KELOLAND News has filed a complaint with the Open Meetings Commission over the lack of a specific agenda being released for all parole hearings.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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