FLANDREAU, S.D. — Defense attorneys for Rep. William J. Janklow (R-S.D.) rolled out a long panel of medical experts Friday who detailed the extent of the politician's diabetic problems and the physical injuries he suffered in the traffic accident last summer that killed a motorcyclist.
Toward the end of the day, Circuit Judge Rodney Steele told jurors that the second-degree manslaughter trial would be in session today, in part to hear one witness -- assumed by many court observers to be Janklow -- whose testimony would take "much" of the day.
Janklow, 64, is accused of running a stop sign on a rural road, striking and killing 55-year-old Randolph E. Scott, a farmer from Minnesota. If convicted on the felony count and lesser charges, Janklow faces up to 10 years in prison, a $10,000 fine and the potential end of his political career.
While neither side in the case would comment on whether Janklow would testify today, defense attorney Ed Evans indicated in court Wednesday that the politician would take the stand.
Throughout the trial, the defense has argued that Janklow, a diabetic, had not eaten anything the day of the accident and that his reactions were slowed by hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar.
That's why jurors appeared to be surprised when Dr. Fred Lovrien, a Sioux Falls-based endocrinologist, said Friday that he was skeptical about the "hypoglycemia defense" when first contacted by the defense.
But after examining Janklow several weeks after the Aug. 16 accident, Lovrien said, he switched gears and concluded that it was possible the politician had low blood sugar at the time.
Part of the reason Janklow did not recognize his condition, Lovrien said, may be tied to his use of Atenolol, a drug used to treat hypertension. The drug, which slows down the heart and affects the circulatory system, may have masked the shakiness and sweating that typically tips off diabetics to a hypoglycemic attack.
"You'd think you're OK when you're not," said Lovrien, who also is diabetic. "As diabetics, we need to be personally responsible" for tracking food intake and maintaining a proper blood sugar level, he said.
Earlier in the week, witnesses for both the defense and prosecution testified that Janklow had passed up several chances to eat that hot summer day.
In addition to the alleged problems with his blood sugar, Janklow suffered a broken wrist and head trauma from the accident, said Dr. Michael Puumala, a neurosurgeon from Sioux Falls who examined the politician.
The head injury led to extreme bleeding on the brain, which in turn has caused decreased concentration, partial memory loss, intense headaches and a short-term slowness in speech, Puumala said.
There also was brain tissue damage, which led to partial paralysis in Janklow's left foot. Such numbness has left the lawmaker with a noticeable limp and made it difficult for him to maneuver the icy parking lot and the snow-covered steps of the Moody County Circuit Courthouse.
Several times in the last few days, the four-term governor and South Dakota's only congressman has reached out toward those around him -- sometimes a member of the defense team and, at least once, a total stranger -- for support.
Such vulnerability could be an important trait to show jurors, say legal experts, particularly if the notoriously strong-willed politician is to step into the witness box.
If Janklow takes the stand, it's an extremely risky gambit, said attorney Albert Krieger, former president of the National Assn. of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
Typically, defense attorneys are reluctant to have clients testify on their own behalf.
"You can rest assured that [a] client is going to say the wrong thing. And the wrong thing is going to mean a conviction," Krieger said. "If the defendant errs on the witness stand and the jury begins to doubt the defendant, there's a great impetus to convict."
But in Janklow's complex situation, taking what is usually a safer route could raise disturbing questions in the jurors' minds, said E. Michael McCann, the district attorney for Milwaukee County, Wis., and former chair of the criminal justice section of the American Bar Assn.
"He's a politician, and any jury is going to wonder what he was trying to hide by not getting on the stand," McCann said. "If he's been governor four times, you can be sure that he's going to be persuasive under pressure. The question will be whether the jury thinks he's sincere. Can he incite their pity? It's not supposed to matter, but jurors are human beings."
Krieger agreed, saying: "If I were representing Janklow, my initial reaction would be, 'Sir, you have to testify.' Why should he hide from the people, if he speaks for the people?"