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Published: Saturday, 12/13/2003

Justice on the prairie

A jury in Flandreau, S.D., showed uncommon courage in handing up a guilty finding on a felony manslaughter charge against U.S. Rep. William Janklow.

The jurors ignored the well-known defendant s official title and prestige and delivered a verdict that fit the crime - blowing a stop sign at a country intersection and killing a crossing motorcyclist.

Still, in a small town where everyone knows everyone else, it must have been difficult for the jurors to convict a local resident who happens to be the state s only member of Congress and the former governor and attorney general.

Janklow, 64, who faces 11 years in prison when he is sentenced on Jan. 20, also was found guilty of misdemeanor charges of reckless driving, speeding, and running a stop sign.

The jury s finding would seem to put an end to a long career in politics for Janklow, who later announced he will resign from Congress the same day he is sentenced. That s also as it should be, especially since the law-and-order Republican tried to weasel out of responsibility for the fatal crash.

Jurors wisely put little stock in Janklow s claim that he was suffering from a diabetic reaction at the time of the Aug. 16 incident and remembered nothing about it.

The congressman was driving his white Cadillac at more than 70 mph when, authorities said, he ran the stop sign and collided with the motorcycle. Janklow has a well-documented history of reckless driving in South Dakota, although the prosecutor was prohibited from introducing his driving record as evidence.

Despite that handicap, the prosecutor put on an aggressive case, labeling Janklow “an unbelievably awful and menacing” driver.

Evenhanded justice is supposed to be a hallmark of the American system of jurisprudence, although it doesn t always come out that way. The South Dakota verdict shows that justice can be served if jurors set aside prejudices and do their job responsibly, even when the accused is a certifiable big shot.

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