The foreman of the hometown jury that convicted Rep. Bill Janklow of manslaughter in an auto wreck said Tuesday that the jurors were not intimidated by his political celebrity and treated the case like an ordinary accident.
"I know I voted for him. And I'm sure there's other people that did," Jim Mitchell told The Associated Press. "We were more concerned with the outcome, what our responsibility was and that didn't really come into consideration."
Janklow, who grew up in Flandreau, has been a force in South Dakota politics for 30 years. He was elected governor four times before entering Congress. The Republican resigned after being convicted Monday of manslaughter, reckless driving, running a stop sign and speeding in an Aug. 16 crash that killed motorcyclist Randy Scott, 55, of Hardwick, Minn.
Janklow will be sentenced Jan. 20. The manslaughter charge carries up to 10 years in prison. The conviction would have also prompted a House ethics committee investigation that could have led to his ouster from Congress.
The jury took less than five hours to reach its verdict.
"We're very familiar with Gov. Janklow, Rep. Janklow. And we weren't intimidated by him," Mitchell said. "And we tried to treat it like it was our neighbor that was in an accident."
When ordered to report for the Janklow trial, Mitchell said it didn't sink in right away. "Then it dawned on me," he said. "I think everybody else felt the same way. When we got picked, everyone was open-mouthed."
The defense argued that Janklow, a diabetic, had not eaten all day and was suffering from low blood sugar when he ran the stop sign.
Mitchell said that if the congressman was suffering a diabetic reaction, it was no excuse.
"Mr. Janklow's negligence in not taking care of himself, of not knowing the consequences of his diabetes ... carried enough weight that it became reckless on his part," the foreman said.
Mitchell said he asked several times if jurors were comfortable with their verdict; some expressed concern about possible retaliation, he said.
"I said I wouldn't expect anything from Mr. Janklow or anybody he's affiliated with ... and I said I wouldn't worry about it," Mitchell said.
Monday's events have thrown South Dakota's 2004 political scene into turmoil, putting pressure on former Rep. John Thune, considered the GOP's most formidable potential candidate, to decide whether to run for the Senate or House, analysts said.
The special election to fill the House vacancy will be held in conjunction with South Dakota's June 1 primary. Janklow's seat will remain open until then.
Democratic lawyer Stephanie Herseth, who lost to Janklow in 2002, said in October she intends to run for the House seat again.
Some Republicans want Thune to run for Janklow's seat instead of the Senate because they believe he stands a better chance against Herseth than against Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle, whose seat is up for election in 2004.