PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — This story has been updated below with a response from the Governor’s Office, and more information regarding the notification of victims and their families.
On Christmas Eve, Governor Kristi Noem commuted the sentences of seven South Dakota inmates. One of those was Connie Hirsch, who was serving time for killing her husband Jerold Hirsch in 2010.
On Dec. 25, 2022, while Noem was playing with a flame thrower, Sandra Lopez, Jerold Hirsch’s daughter, was finding out her fathers killer had been released.
“I found out through a victim advocate,” said Lopez, speaking with KELOLAND News via Zoom on Tuesday. “She called me and asked me if I was aware that Connie was — that the governor granted her release — I said ‘no, I didn’t know that. No one called me,’ — no one even notified me that she was being released.”
Lopez’ father was killed in May of 2010. According to reporting at the time, Connie Hirsch shot her husband in the head at her place of work, claiming that their relationship was at times abusive, and that on the day in question he had refused to leave after showing up and asking for sex.
Hirsch initially attempted to hide the body, even calling her son to ask for help. He refused, and she eventually called the police.
The Hirsch’s had filed for divorce years prior, but the process was never completed.
“She was trying to say my dad was abusive towards her,” said Lopez. “There might have been evidence of it, but not from what I saw.”
Lopez does acknowledge that there was conflict between Connie and Jerold, though she places the blame on Connie.
“She could have left my dad any time she wanted,” said Lopez. “She left him before for another guy and then he took her back.”
Whatever the case, Connie Hirsch plead guilty to first-degree manslaughter in 2012, and was sentenced to 35-years in prison.
Lopez now criticizes the decision of granting Hirsch a commutation. In the release from the Governor’s Office, it is said that each of those selected “demonstrated a low risk of recidivism,” and “are being released with precautions in place such as electronic monitoring and parole supervision.”
Had she been asked about the prospect of a commutation for Hirsch, Lopez unsurprisingly says she would have opposed it. “I would have said ‘why can’t she sit till her parole date,’ which was 2026,” Lopez said. “I don’t feel that someone should get to take a life and then walk freely amongst society.”
In addition to the anger Lopez holds for Hirsch, her frustration has also found another target: Kristi Noem.
“I feel like I’m victimized all over again by Noem doing this,” Lopez said. “I don’t got a dad. I don’t get to see my dad. I gotta go visit my dad at a grave. My kids gotta go visit their grandpa at a grave. Her kids would’ve at least got to visit her behind bars. I mean at least she was still alive.”
A large part of Lopez’s frustration comes from the idea that Hirsch was selected for commutation.
“Why not drug dealers or someone else — I’m not saying I have a perfect life, I don’t, but — my son’s been in trouble with the law for drinking — the judge said to him he was a threat to society and threw him in prison,” Lopez said. “But [Hirsch] is not a threat to society — she can take a life and she’s not a threat to society.”
Lopez said she has not reached out to the Governor’s Office. “I haven’t,” she said. “I really don’t care for Noem, and now I really don’t care for Noem.”
Though she hasn’t sought answers from Noem, Lopez still wants answers to a few questions.
“I would like to ask her what even made you decide that she was fit to be out,” said Lopez. “Did you take into consideration all the family members — how would you like it if it was one of your family members?”
KELOLAND News reached out to Ian Fury in the Governor’s Office, asking the following:
- What is the process by which those who will be granted commutations are selected?
- How in particular was Connie Hirsch selected?
- Were efforts made to contact Lopez, and if so, how?
- Should Lopez and her family have been notified that the person convicted of killing her father was having her sentence commuted?
At the time of publishing, we had not received a response.
In an email from Fury on Dec. 29, it was stated that “DOC records indicate that there are no there were no victims registered in the Statewide Automated Victim Information & Notification (SAVIN) system for Connie Hirsch.”
SAVIN is the state’s system for implementing Marsy’s Law, a constitutional amendment that was passed in 2016, and revised in 2018. The 2016 amendment guaranteed, among other things, that victims and their family members would receive protections including notice of court proceedings and the opportunity to provide input during the process.
In 2018, the amendment was revised to narrow the definition of victims and reduce the number of family members who could claim victim status. The change also required victims to opt-in to receiving notices and protections. Enrollment had previously been automatic.
Hirsch pleaded guilty in 2012, and according to DOC records, it appears Lopez did not register to receive protections/notifications after the law was changed in 2018.
Lopez says she was unaware of the requirement to opt-in to the SAVIN system.
Fury did not answer the questions regarding the process for selecting those who receive commutations or how Hirsch was chosen.
Lopez doesn’t know how Hirsch’s name ended up on Noem’s desk, but she thinks the governor should have given more thought before granting a commutation.
“Just because you’re a governor and you can say ‘I want this done’ — you should take other people’s feelings into consideration,” said Lopez as she blinked away tears. “You’re the governor. You’re there to help people. You’re supposed to.”
With the commutation signed and Hirsch a free woman, Lopez has nothing to do but move forward. “All I can do is leave it in God’s hands,” she said. She also plans to consult a lawyer.
In addition to Hirsch, six others had their sentences commuted on Christmas eve by Noem. The others are Danielle Blakney, Jamie Christine Bosone, Jerome R. Ferguson, Britni Jean Goodhart, Tammy Kvasnicka, and Whitney Renae Turney.
Kvasnicka and Turnery were also sentenced for first degree manslaughter. The remaining four were serving time for drug offenses.