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Janklow Found Guilty of Manslaughter - 2003-12-09

A Jury in the midwestern state of South Dakota has convicted Republican Congressman Bill Janklow of second-degree manslaughter in connection with a traffic accident in August that killed a motorcyclist. Mr. Janklow has announced his resignation from Congress.

The eight women and four men on the jury deliberated for about five hours before returning a verdict of guilty on all counts. They found Representative Janklow guilty of the manslaughter charge as well as three misdemeanors, reckless driving, exceeding the speed limit and failure to stop at a stop sign.

Within two hours, Mr. Janklow announced his resignation from Congress, bringing an end to what had been a highly successful political career and leaving open the question of who will fill South Dakota's lone seat in the House of Representatives.

The news spread quickly across the prairies of South Dakota, a state where Mr. Janklow has been a prominent political figure for the past three decades. Before winning the congressional seat in last year's election, Mr. Janklow had served one term as the state's Attorney General and two terms as governor.

David Kranz is a political analyst and reporter for the Argus-Leader newspaper in South Dakota's largest city, Sioux Falls. In a V-O-A telephone interview he says the Janklow conviction proved the cynics wrong. "A lot of people suggested in the public opinion surveys that he is a big and powerful figure so he would get off. That was the prevailing opinion in South Dakota," says Mr. Kranz. "It is very clear that that did not happen."

A special election to fill South Dakota's congressional seat will be held on the state's primary day, June first.

Representative Janklow was convicted in connection with the death of Randy Scott, from the neighboring state of Minnesota, who died after being struck by an automobile Mr. Janklow was driving on a rural road. Defense lawyers claimed the congressman's reflexes had been dulled by a low blood sugar level resulting from his diabetes, which was masked by effects from a hypertension drug he was taking.

Prosecutors, however, challenged that notion and countered that, even if this were true, Mr. Janklow is responsible for controlling his condition and should not have been driving if he had not taken proper precautions. Sentencing in the case is set for the December 20. The manslaughter charge carries a maximum sentence of ten years in prison.