RAPID CITY, S.D. (KELO) — The trial for a man accused of stabbing and killing Jessica Rehfeld in 2015 suddenly stopped this week, when a defense expert refused to testify.
That expert is a Montana doctor who recently reached a settlement with the government for not keeping proper records of the controlled substances found at his house and his clinic.
Dr. William Stratford was scheduled to testify to whether Richard Hirth was sane during the time of the murder. But that changed after the judge approved the state’s plan to ask him about a lawsuit, where he agreed to pay the government $85,000 dollars for violating controlled substance record laws, related to Ketamine and self-proscribed Xanax.
It’s now been eight years since Rehfeld was stabbed to death by two men who police say were hired to kill the 22-year-old woman by her ex-boyfriend. Her body was found in 2016.
“I know there have been other plots that have been interrupted or foiled before the murder takes place. But in my career I think this is the only murder for hire that we’ve seen completed,” said Rapid City Police Capt. James Johns Rapid City Police in 2016.
A Pennington County judge postponed this week’s trial due to the defense expert refusing to appear in court.
“Dr. Stratford was not just saying that he was going to refuse to answer questions, he was now saying that he was going to refuse to appear at all, which is shocking for a defense expert to say after he’s been working on this case for six years. So for him to say now that he is not going to come and testify at trial, it was very shocking. It put all of us in a terrible position,” said Lara Roetzel, Pennington County’s State Attorney.
Stratford, a psychiatrist out of Montana, entered the civil settlement agreement with the DEA for record-keeping violations which ultimately led to his credibility being questioned.
The defense counsel released a statement saying, “We, like all involved and impacted, are tremendously disappointed that this trial had to be continued. Everyone involved deserves finality. The eve of trial development was out of all parties’ control and the net result would have been an unfair trial. Like the States Attorney’s Office, we would also like to express our gratitude to the jurors who participated in jury selection.”
The judge gave them six months to find a new defense expert.
“The state is devastated that we’re not able to present this case to a jury at this time. we remain committed to seeking justice for Jessica Rehfeld,” said Roetzel.
Hirth, the man accused of stabbing Rehfeld, is the only suspect left to be sentenced.
It’s unknown when the trial will start again, however, the state attorney predicts it won’t be for another year.