PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — A judge presided over a motions hearing Monday afternoon in the criminal case against Jason Ravnsborg.
The South Dakota Attorney General faces an August trial for three second-class misdemeanor traffic offenses for his driving on the night of September 12, 2020, when pedestrian Joe Boever was hit and killed at the west edge of Highmore along US 14.
Tim Rensch, Ravnsborg’s defense attorney, was on hand at the Hughes County Courthouse for the hearing. On Friday, the defense team filed a motion requesting Boever’s psychiatric records. The filing quotes one of Boever’s cousins, who told law enforcement he believes it is possible Boever jumped in front of Ravnsborg’s car on purpose.
On Monday, another cousin rejected that suggestion while speaking with KELOLAND’s Dan Santella. Victor Nemec says Boever had said, “suicide is not an option.”
KELOLAND’s Capitol News Bureau reporter Bob Mercer was in court for Monday’s hearing. He reports Judge John Brown granted Rensch’s motion for in-camera review of medical and psychological records of Boever.
Judge Brown said the trial will start August 26 at Stanley County Courthouse. The judge said he wanted to use the Hyde County Courthouse at Highmore but he was concerned abut the potential for late-summer heat. He chose the courthouse in Fort Pierre because it will be available.
Hyde County deputy state’s attorney Emily Sovell opposed the defense motion for psychological records. She said nothing about Boever’s state of mind was relevant to the traffic charges.
“It’s not a homocide case. It’s not a manslaughter case,” Sovell argued. “I really think we are stretching too far in this case.”
She added that the defense has everything the prosecution has. “His (Boever’s) state of mind is not part of our case,” she said. “Mister Boever is not on trial. His psychological history is not on trial.”
Ravnsborg wasn’t in the courtroom Monday and hasn’t yet attended a proceeding in the matter. He is charged with using an electronic device while driving, an illegal lane change and careless driving. They are class-two misdemeanors, each punishable by up to 30 days in county jail and a $500 fine.
Ravnsborg called 911 after the crash and told the dispatcher he didn’t know what he had hit. He and his chief of staff, Tim Bormann, found Boever’s body the next day when they returned the Hyde County sheriff’s car to Highmore. The flashlight Boever was carrying was still lit.
Investigators later found Boever’s eyeglasses in Ravnsborg’s front-passenger seat from when Boever’s head came through the windshield.
Rensch said Monday his motion was based on information throughout the prosecution’s reports. “It goes to the whole case,” Rensch said, referring to the possibility that Ravnsborg’s car struck Boever on US 14, rather than on the westbound shoulder as North Dakota accident investigators determined.
Rensch said the cousin’s statement that Boever’s preferred method of suicide was to jump in front of a vehicle was “super important” to the defense. Rensch said the dozens of pills missing from Boever’s prescription bottle also might have had a role.
Rensch based his request in part on health care billings that were submitted to Boever’s estate. Rensch said a neighbor also made a statement to a member of the South Dakota Highway Patrol that Boever had been struggling and had recently been committed to a mental health institution.
“These circumstances are powerful,” Rensch told the judge.
Judge Brown asked what benefit could be gained from having the records. “Timing,” Rensch replied. The judge asked whether Rensch would want to call any additional witnesses if the judge’s private review finds any potentially relevant material in the medical and psychological records. Rensch said that was possible. “So yes, that could have an impact,” Rensch said.
Sovell asked what Boever’s state of mind had to do with the speed at which Ravnsborg was traveling or the point of impact.
Judge Brown said Ravnsborg’s due-process rights and his right to a fair trial supported granting the motion.
The judge showed no interest in pushing back the trial, which is set for August 26-27. “I anticipate we will go ahead with the trial as scheduled,” the judge said.