Janice Howe was sentenced Tuesday in Pierre for state election crimes 16 years ago and separate local charges for forging checks in Pierre 13 years ago, after reaching plea deals with state and county prosecutors.
Howe, 54, a member of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, is and known – even celebrated - for her work and activism over the rights of tribal members in cases of Indian children needing foster care or adoption services. But prosecutors said she had just ignored the charges against her.
She and her attorney had argued she never fled the area and has been living on or near the Crow Creek reservation for the past 16 years.
Howe lives near Harrold, South Dakota.
Arrested in a dramatic highway stop in July just off the reservation, on warrants from the old charges, Howe spent a month in jail in Pierre and faced possible years in prison based on the charges.
Howe appeared in court in August after her July 13 arrest, as plea deals were announced from both county and state prosecutors over her long-dormant charges.
At that Aug. 18 hearing, Howe’s husband, Louis Adrian and one of her children told the Capital Journal her prosecution was political, that state Attorney General Marty Jackley was punishing her for opposing state policies on adoption and foster care of Indian children.
In court on Tuesday, Howe told state Judge John Brown she wanted to disavow her connection to such comments.
Jackley “helped our tribe with a lot of corrupt practices. I have a lot of respect for him. I just want to be on the record that I have a lot of respect for him.”
She apologized to her family, to “the state of South Dakota, I apologize to them and I apologize to my tribe. . . I don’t blame anybody but myself.”
Brent Kempema, assistant attorney general in Jackley’s office, told Brown that Howe’s election offense, of perjury for claiming under oath to have witnessed valid petition signatures when she hadn’t, was similar to “relatively recent cases,” and that a similar suspended sentence would be appropriate, especially because the case is so old.
He was referring to this summer’s cases of Dr. Annette Bosworth and Clayton Walker who were sentenced to probation for similar electioneering crimes.
In Howe’s case, she was accused of writing in the names of her children on petitions.
Schreiber asked for a lesser sentence – that it not be imposed - saying Howe has worked for years as a credited foster parent with the state’s social services department in helping to place Indian children who need foster care or adoption services.
She was charged in 2002 with the election crimes said to have been committed in 1999.
Howe also pleaded guilty in a deal with Hughes County State’s Attorney Wendy Kloeppner to forging checks in 2000 in Pierre while working as a home health nurse for a Texas company.
Kloeppner said in August Howe still owed about $13,000 in restitution in that case and her sentence Tuesday includes continuing to pay that off.
In asking Brown to sentence Howe to four years in prison, Kloeppner said Howe had paid very little restitution and “ignored probation almost from the beginning. . . There must be some punishment for absconding for 13 years.”
Schreiber rebutted Kloeppner’s recommendation, telling Brown “any penitentiary time is way out of line.” Howe has been living a responsible life for years, recognized by the state for her help with children and has shown an interest in clearing up her past cases, Schreiber said.
“Ms. Howe, I am somewhat torn,” Judge Brown said has he handed down his sentence. “Obviously you have accomplished good, working for your tribe and your church and your community. And you had an obvious obligation to the court in Pierre of 14 years . . . It does seem to warrant some degree of punishment.”
Brown sentenced Howe to four years in prison, all suspended during four years of supervised probation. “I’m going to require that you serve 60 days in jail,” he said.
Brown also gave her credit for time served.
Howe’s court-appointed attorney, Bradley Schreiber, told Brown that Howe had served 36 days in the Hughes County jail in July and August and he said she served 94 days “back in 2001.”
It wasn’t clear how many of the 60 days, if any, she would have to serve.
But Brown ordered to her report to the jail by 5 p.m., Friday, Nov. 20.
At Schreiber’s request, Brown said she could serve the 60 days on work release, if it’s available per jail regulations and situations.
“She has a job,” Schreiber said, and if she was jailed, she might lose that and not be able to pay restitution.
Howe came into court limping, using a cane with a fabric boot on one foot. She told Brown she has no health insurance and if she’s doesn’t go to Crow Creek reservation to Indian Health Services, she would have to pay for upcoming surgery and other care, which she said she can’t afford.
Brown said she would be given medical furloughs for such trips, but must arrange her own transportation.