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Braiden McCahren paroled; murdered 16-year-old Pierre classmate in 2012
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Braiden McCahren, who murdered his 16-year-old Riggs High School classmate Dalton Williams with a shotgun blast in McCahren’s Pierre home on Dec. 18, 2012, was released this month from the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls on parole.

McCahren, now 24, was convicted in September 2014 by a state court jury of second-degree murder.

On Dec. 16, 2014, state Circuit Judge John Brown sentenced him to 25 years in prison with 15 years suspended. Brown also sentenced him to 15 years for aggravated assault on Tyus Youngberg, the third classmate in the room the day of the murder. The assault sentence was to be served at the same time as the murder sentence.

Brown, who retired in June 2019,  said McCahren would be tried in adult circuit court rather than juvenile court because of the seriousness of the charge, its impact on the community and the families, and the lack of remorse shown by McCahren.

Brown also moved the trial from Pierre to Winner in Tripp County because of concerns McCahren would not receive a fair trial in his home town where surveys found most people had a strong opinion about his guilt.

According to a police affidavit of probable cause, Youngberg said the three friends were in McCahren’s home when he and McCahren began arguing over a previous paintball “incident,” and began to “wrestle around jokingly.”

McCahren walked over to get a semi-automatic shotgun, walked back into the kitchen area, pointed it at Youngberg and pulled the trigger. Youngberg heard the trigger click; the gun apparently was empty. McCahren then loaded a shell into the shotgun, pointed it again at Youngberg, who heard it click.

Youngberg said he attempted to leave the house through a sliding door, but wasn’t able to do so. He said at this point Williams was between himself and McCahren, who pulled the trigger again, hitting Williams, Youngberg told the police officer. Youngberg said he left the house and called 911.

McCahren's defense argued at trial that he did not intend to shoot Williams and didn't know it was loaded. An expert witness for the defense testified the Benelli shotgun could hold an extra shell without someone handling it being aware it was loaded.

With credit for 453 days he had served in custody awaiting trial, and under state sentencing guidelines that reduce prison time based on a defendant’s criminal history, McCahren was expected to serve about six years, Brown said.

In April 2016, the state Supreme Court denied an appeal by McCahren of his conviction and sentence.

In his appeal, he argued that testimony from a fellow inmate of McCahren’s in a juvenile facility about what McCahren said about the shooting, and testimony of law enforcement officers about what he said right after the shooting should be thrown out. But the high court ruled the testimony was valid.

McCahren also appealed the second-degree murder charge. He initially was charged with first-degree murder, which could have resulted in a sentence of life in prison. After the trial's closing arguments, before the case went to the jury, the prosecution, which was led by the state attorney general's office, asked Brown to instruct the jury they could find McCahren guilty of second-degree murder as a "lesser included charge."  Second-degree murder involves less premeditation and intent than first-degree murder.

Brown allowed the instruction, despite objections from the defense.

In his appeal, McCahren argued that the defense and the jury had not been sufficiently informed of the possibility of a second-degree murder charge and conviction. That hindered the defense’s preparation and use of testimony and witnesses, McCahren argued.

In its opinion on McCahren's appeal, two Supreme Court justices wrote opinions that, while concurring with the overall denial, called the prosecution move an "ambush," that should be avoided.

 In short, the defense argument was that because it figured there was not enough evidence to convince a jury to convict McCahren of first-degree murder, it did not mount as broad and detailed a defense - including perhaps putting McCahren himself on the stand -  as it would have if it knew that second-degree murder was on the table. 

  The prosecution's argument was that the lesser offense of second-degree murder is presumed to be part of the greater offense of first-degree murder and the defense should have been prepared.

In any event, people on both sides of the case expressed surprise at the sentence not being longer, according to news reports.

The state Department of Corrections gave McCahren an “initial parole date” of Aug. 4, 2020.

In nearly all cases, if an inmate complies with prison regulations, they are released on their initial parole date without a formal review by the state Board of Pardons and Parole.

That was the process in McCahren’s case; McCahren did not have to appear before the Pardons and Parole Board before walking out of prison.

According to state prison records, he is scheduled to remain supervised on parole until June 19, 2037, when his original full sentence of 25 years expires.

Typically, the parole supervision would include that McCahren would need permission from a parole officer to leave the state, according to prison spokesman Michael Winder.

A wrongful death lawsuit filed in early 2015 by the family of Dalton Williams seeking $6 million from Braiden McCahren and his father, Pierre attorney Lee “Kit” McCahren, has been settled, according to one of the parties involved.

The lawsuit claimed McCahren refused to give aid to Williams after shooting him, instead “walking over Dalton Williams,” and eating Williams lay dying in the same room.

McCahren’s father, Kit McCahren, was a target of the suit, which claimed he failed to supervise his son who had a “history of aggressive, reckless and delinquent conduct” and should not have been left home with access to guns.

Dalton Williams was born and grew up in Pierre and was a sophomore at Riggs High at the time of his death.

His survivors included his parents, his brother and his three sisters, his grandparents and great-grandparents, according to his obituary.

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Masks In Hand: Pierre students head back to class
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The world had changed quite from March 13 to Aug. 20 — the time period between Pierre School District students attending in-person classes.

Nevertheless, about 2,750 students enthusiastically headed to class on Thursday. It was friends, books, friends, lockers, friends, bags ... oh and teachers and learning. It was also social distancing when possible; masks when needed, extra common-sense hygiene, and worries. And that is just among the students and staff.

“I think kids are anxious to get back to school,” Superintendent Kelly Glodt said earlier this week. “I think there are so many benefits to in-person instruction. The socialization factor.”

“We are going to spend time teaching students how to wash their hands, how to social distance, how to hand sanitize,” Glodt added in relation to the battle against COVID-19.

And while many colleges and high schools around the nation are facing a fall without football for the first time in more than 100 years, the Govs of T.F. Riggs High School will take their shot another state championship.

And as of now, Glodt said fans are more than welcome.

“We are going to start off allowing all fans to come,” Glodt said. “We ask them to social distance and wear a mask.”

On the west side of the Missouri River, Stanley County students are expected to return to classes on Wednesday, Aug. 26.

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Biden pledges national mask mandate
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Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said at more than 5.5 million COVID-19 cases — along with more than 170,000 deaths attributed to the coronavirus — the time has come for masks to be mandatory across the nation.

“We’ll have a national mandate to wear a mask — not as a burden, but to protect each other. It’s a patriotic duty,” Biden said while officially accepting his party’s nomination, Thursday during the virtual Democratic National Convention.

If elected as national polls predict he will be on Nov. 3, the 77-year-old Biden will be the oldest man ever to win the office. Prior to serving as vice president for President Barack Obama from 2009 to 2017, Biden represented Delaware in the U.S. Senate from 1973 to 2009.

His 44 years as an elected official in Washington, D.C. seemingly make Biden a clear political “insider.”

Nevertheless, Biden is positioning himself as the candidate who can heal a nation torn by disease, economic turmoil and social tumult.

“In times as challenging as these, I believe there is only one way forward. As a united America. United in our pursuit of a more perfect Union. United in our dreams of a better future for us and for our children. United in our determination to make the coming years bright,” Biden said Thursday at the DNC.

At the same time, Biden threw out some meat for left-wing Democrats, who have been anything but quiet in 2020.

Biden said he is committed to “Winning it for those communities who have known the injustice of the knee on the neck,” a clear reference to the death in May of George Floyd while in the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department. That event sparked nationwide riots which continue to this day, particularly in Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon.

“America is at an inflection point. A time of real peril, but of extraordinary possibilities. We can choose the path of becoming angrier, less hopeful, and more divided. A path of shadow and suspicion. Or we can choose a different path, and together, take this chance to heal, to be reborn, to unite. A path of hope and light,” Biden said.

The Real Clear Politics national poll compilation gave Biden an edge of 7.6 points over President Donald Trump on Friday, but these polls did not account for the traditional “bounce” a presidential candidate receives after their convention.

Wednesday night, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., officially became the first non-white woman to be nominated to run as vice president for a major party.

“And let’s be clear — there is no vaccine for racism. We’ve gotta do the work. For George Floyd. For Breonna Taylor. For the lives of too many others to name. For our children. For all of us,” Harris said during her Wednesday speech.

Though Harris spent much of her Wednesday speech tearing into Trump, she said the challenges non-white people face began far before Trump’s 2016 election.

“Black, Latino and Indigenous people are suffering and dying disproportionately. This is not a coincidence. It is the effect of structural racism. Of inequities in education and technology, health care and housing, job security and transportation,” she said.

With the closure of the DNC, the nation’s eyes will soon turn to the Republican National Convention, set for next week. The official site is Charlotte, North Carolina, although some of the event is expected to happen through virtual means, as was the case for the DNC. Gov. Kristi Noem is expected to address the RNC on Wednesday, Aug. 26, though it remains unclear at this point where she will be while speaking.

Not surprisingly, Trump is not impressed with Biden. Via Twitter, the president said of Biden’s long tenure in government: “In 47 years, Joe did none of the things of which he now speaks. He will never change, just words!”

Shown is a highly magnified photo of the virus that creates COVID-19.

COVID-19, By The Numbers
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Deaths attributed to COVID-19 in Hughes County, according to the South Dakota Department of Health as of 4 p.m Friday.

16 (+1 from Wednesday)Active COVID-19 cases in Hughes County, according to the South Dakota Department of Health as of 4 p.m. Friday.

4 (+1 from Wednesday)Active COVID-19 cases in Stanley County, according to the state Department of Health as of 4 p.m. Friday.

5,551,793Total COVID-19 cases in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as of 4 p.m. Friday.

173,490Deaths attributed to COVID-19 across the U.S. as of 4 p.m. Friday.

10,884Total COVID-19 cases in South Dakota, according to the state Department of Health as of 4 p.m. Friday. 5,475 of these are men, while 5,409 are women.

1,376 (+154 from Wednesday)Active COVID-19 cases in South Dakota, according to the state Department of Health as of 4 p.m. Friday.

159Deaths attributed to COVID-19 in South Dakota.

50People “currently” hospitalized for COVID-19 in South Dakota.

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19 S.D. school districts report COVID cases
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Gov. Kristi Noem released a column on Friday she titled, “By the Numbers: South Dakota’s COVID-19 Response,” but something not included in Noem’s list is the number of schools already seeing active infections, just days into the 2020-21 academic term.

South Dakota Department of Health Communication & Community Coordinator Rebecca Piroutek confirmed to the Capital Journal late Friday that 19 school districts throughout the state reported positive COVID-19 cases.

Locally, the Sully Buttes Chargers football team planned to make its 2020 debut on Friday night, despite school officials alerting parents that at least one student has tested positive for COVID-19. The school is located several miles northeast of Pierre, serving the communities of Agar, Blunt and Onida.

It was not clear Friday if the infected student was an athlete, nor did school officials provide more information as to the condition or the identity of the student. The Department of Health typically does not release such specific information about infections.

The Facebook entry by Agar-Blunt-Onida School District Superintendent Kevin Pickner states: “The South Dakota Department of Health (SD-DOH) has informed us that a student in our school has been diagnosed with COVID-19. We are alerting parents to be watchful for children with symptoms suggestive of COVID-19 illness during the next 14 days. If your child is identified as being a close contact to the COVID-19 case, the SD-DOH will contact you.”

Also on Friday, South Dakota Department of Health officials reported 1,376 active COVID-19 infections, an increase of 154 from Wednesday. This is the highest single-day total for cases in the state since May 11.

Stanley County had zero active COVID-19 infections for several weeks, but is now up to four. Hughes County saw 16 active infections on Friday.

Noem’s “By The Numbers”

We at the Capital Journal are not sure if we directly inspired Noem’s Friday list, but we have been running “COVID-19 By The Numbers” on the front page of our print editions since March. Nevertheless, here are some of the numbers Noem cited:

30,000 — Close contacts notified;

120,000 — Tests that came back negative for COVID-19;

36,000 — Calls to the state’s COVID-19 hotline;

7.3 million — Unique visits to the COVID.sd.gov website since Jan. 27;

500,000 — N-95 respirators distributed;

1 million — Surgical masks distributed;

70 — webinars hosted by the Department of Health;

18,500 — Residents and staff members at nursing homes and assisted living facilities tested;

9 — “We’ve assisted all nine tribes in the state in their mass testing efforts;”

10 — Informational sessions hosted to help school superintendents and nurses prepare for the new school year;

195 — Businesses receiving technical assistance from the state;

55 — “Hotspot calls with local communities;”

152 — Focused infection control surveys; and

110 — Media briefings hosted by either Noem or the Department of Health.

“Our fight isn’t over. We will continue to see cases in the months to come. We’ll keep our focus on taking smart steps and exercising personal responsibility to protect the most vulnerable among us. As I’ve told you many times, together, we will get through this. Together, we’re proving that we can,” Noem added.

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8 men nabbed in annual Sturgis Rally child sex sting
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Eight men were arrested and face charges in a child sex crime sting led by the feds during the 2020 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally which ended Sunday Aug. 16.

The special law enforcement action has become one of the recent traditions pegged to the Rally that brings about a half million people on average each year to the small town of 7,000 in the Black Hills near Rapid City.

This year it appeared the attendance was down, but not as low as half of normal as some leaders in Sturgis predicted last month.

One good measure is the state Department of Transportation’s vehicle count, done every Rally since 1990.

The DOT reported on Tuesday that the number of vehicles that entered Sturgis during the 10 days of the 2020 Rally from Friday, Aug. 7 through Sunday, Aug. 16, was 462,182. That’s down 7.5% from 2019’s 499,654, and down about the same from 2018 and 2019. But it’s pretty close to a longer-term average vehicle count.

The city of Sturgis’ complicated measure of Rally attendance using utility uses, sales tax and several other factors won’t be ready for weeks. But it’s tracked fairly consistently with the DOT vehicle counts.

For what it’s worth, the now-yearly sex crime sting during the Rally, while much smaller numbers-wise, tracked with recent years in numbers of busts.

This year’s sting began on Aug. 7, the first day of the Rally and continued through Thursday, Aug. 13, according to a news release on Tuesday from U.S. Attorney Ron Parsons.

The state’s top federal prosecutor released the names of the eight men who face serious federal charges in the sweep that apparently involved arrests made in Rapid City.

In at least one case, a target of the sting tried to escape on his motorcycle, fought with agents,threatened suicide and tried to pull a gun out of his vest and didn’t stop fighting until he was zapped with a Taser, according to court documents.

Two of the eight men were arrested and charged with the attempted commercial sex trafficking of a minor:

Robert Lee Goodwill Jr., 20, Rapid City;

Kevin William Clements, 22, Claysville, Pennsylvania.

Six of the eight men were arrested on allegations of attempted enticement of a minor using the internet:

Cody Wayne Hopkins, 29, Montgomery, Pennsylvania;

Michael Ray Hudson, 32, Rapid City;

Travis John McDonald, 28, Rapid City;

William Nicholas Riley, 60, Sturgis;

Darren Wilber Harrison, 25, Rapid City;

Christopher Covey Dale Truax, 33, Rapid City.

The charges carry mandatory minimum prison time and can mean up to life in prison, in theory.

The charge of attempted sex trafficking of a minor carries a mandatory minimum sentence 15 years if the victim is younger than 14, and a mandatory minimum of 10 years if the victim is from 14 to 17 years old, according to Parsons.

The charge’s maximum sentence is life and a $250,000 fine and five years, or more, of supervised probation after release from prison.

The charge of attempted enticement of a minor using the internet carries a mandatory minimum sentence of at least 10 years in prison, up to a maximum of life in prison, and from five years to life on supervised probation after a prison term, according to Parsons.

Restitution to victims may also be ordered from someone is convicted of either charge.

The agencies involved in the operation were the state Department of Criminal Investigations and the state Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, federal Homeland Security Investigations, the U.S. Attorney’s office, the Rapid City Police Department and the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office in Rapid City.

Here’s how one of the men was arrested, according to federal court documents in the case:

From Aug. 6-11, a male agent with the state’s Division of Criminal Investigations posed as a 13-year-old girl on the internet application, “Badoo,” which is a site where “people meet one another, sometimes to engage in sex acts,” according to the affidavit of probable cause from Michelle Pohlen, a special agent with the federal Homeland Security Investigations trained to investigate sex crimes against children using the internet.

Starting on Aug. 6 and continuing until Aug. 11, Clements was chatting with the DCI “13-year-old girl,” negotiating for sex.

The “girl” informed Clements “she” was only 13 and would perform oral sex for $50 but needed $100 for “anything else,” Pohlen said in the affidavit. Clements asked how much for anal sex. The “girl” said she had to ask her “pimp,” and then agreed to $100.

On Aug. 11, Clements agreed to meet the “pimp,” to show him the money to prove he had it, then the pimp would give Clements a key to a nearby hotel room where he could have sex with the “girl,” Pohlen said.

Law enforcement officers watched Clements drive his bike to a gas station, go into a convenience store, come back out and drive immediately across the street to the parking lot where he was to meet the pimp.

An undercover agent playing the role of the pimp talked to Clements who “acknowledged he was there to have” the agreed upon sex with the 13-year-old girl for $100, according to Pohlen’s affidavit.

“The undercover agent gave the take-down signal and when the other law enforcement agents arrived on the scene, Clements attempted to flee by driving his motorcycle over the curb,” Pohlen wrote. “He fought with agents, attempting to retrieve the gun he had in his vest and continued to physically fight with agents until he was Tased. After he was handcuffed, he told (the DCI agent who posed as the 13-year-old girl) to ‘just shoot me.’ After he was medically cleared, he was transported to interview.”

Pohlen said that during the interview Clements admitted it was his phone number that showed up on the internet chat with the agent posing as the girl.

Clements then asked for a lawyer “but also volunteered he was going to kill himself as soon as he was released from custody,” according to Pohlen..

Like in other cases, prosecutors asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Daneta Wollman to seal the case documents concerning Clements because it was an ongoing investigation. Pohlen asked Wollman to seal the case documents from public view because “premature disclosure of case material may give targets an opportunity to flee, destroy or tamper with evidence, change patters of behavior, notify confederates, or otherwise seriously jeopardize the investigation.”

Wollman did seal the case, and others, for a couple, three days.

Clements was jailed and made his initial appearance before Wollman in Rapid City at noon on Thursday, Aug. 13.

Represented by Tom Diggins, a federal public defender, Clements pleaded not guilty and asked to be released. Assistant U.S. Attorney Heather Sazama asked Wollman to detain Clements. Wollman ordered him detained.

It appears that by Aug. 13, the investigation was far enough along that Wollman unsealed court documents in the cases.

On Monday, Aug. 18, Spearfish attorney Matthew Kinney notified the federal court in Rapid City he would be appearing on behalf of Clements.

The number of men arrested in the annual sex crime sting during the Sturgis Rally has averaged 7.7 during the seven years 2013-2019.

It’s increased, though. In the four years 2016-2019, an average of 9.25 men were arrested and charged each year.

Their sentences in federal prison have been from a couple to several years. The sentences demonstrate that federal judges aren’t bound by the mandatory minimum sentences set in statute and that there are a lot of variables in federal sentencing guidelines.

In 2017, a Nevada man was sentenced to two years in federal prison after being arrested during the 2015 Rally and charged later that year.

An Indiana man got a three-year sentence in 2018 for an arrest during the 2016 Rally.

In 2018, a Winner, South Dakota man was sentenced to five years in federal prison after being arrested during the 2016 Rally and charged with using the internet to solicit someone he thought was a 15-year-old boy — a role played by a DCI agent — for sex and to traffic in child pornography.