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South Dakota man sentenced to prison in 2013 killing of girlfriend found dead in Black Hills National Forest

A South Dakota man has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for manslaughter in the 2013 death of his girlfriend.

Richard Schmitz, 55, took a plea deal in January, one day before he was due to go on trial for the death of Meshell Will, 38, whose badly decomposed body was found along a road in the Black Hills National Forest. On Friday, Judge Craig Pfeifle handed down the maximum sentence, the Rapid City Journal reported.

Meshell Will KELO-TV

Schmitz will serve 10 years in prison, minus the 900 days he's already served, CBS affiliate KELO-TV reported

Schmitz and Will lived across the hall from each other in Custer. Law enforcement reports show they checked into a Keystone motel about a week before her body was found. But it took eight years until he was charged with second-degree murder. His arrest followed a 2021 pathology report that ruled her manner of death as either undetermined or homicide. The initial autopsy said her cause of death was undetermined.

"It's difficult to tell how Meshell died," Pennington County prosecutor Roxanne Hammond said in court. But she said circumstantial evidence proved Schmitz killed Will in their motel room and discarded her body.

Investigators interviewed Schmitz several times after Will's death. He long denied any involvement but entered an Alford plea Jan. 30 to second-degree manslaughter. That was an acknowledgement that the state had enough evidence to convict without explicitly admitting guilt.

"Law enforcement really never gave up on this case," Hammond told KELO-TV. "They pulled it together and then finally were able to find expert testimony that would allow us to say that this was a homicide, I think is something that's an incredible feat," senior deputy state's attorney Roxanna Hammond said.

Defense attorney Martha Rossiter argued the state's case was weak but did not dispute that Schmitz lied to investigators.

"Mr. Schmitz has an issue being honest, particularly with police," said Rossiter, who asked the judge for time served - over 2 1/2 years.

Schmitz has had six different cases brought against him since 1999, involving assault and domestic violence, KELO-TV reported.

Judge Pfeifle said he based his sentence on the plea deal and Schmitz's prior convictions for violence against women.

"You have a significant challenge dealing with romantic relationships in your life," Pfeifle said. "I think you continue to remain a danger."

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