YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

The Nation

An Emotional Janklow Takes the Stand in Trial

The South Dakota congressman admits to routinely breaking road rules. But says he can't recall the crash in which a man was killed.

December 07, 2003|P.J. Huffstutter | Times Staff Writer

FLANDREAU, S.D. — Choking back tears at times and shaking with anger at others, Rep. William J. Janklow (R-S.D.) took a gamble and testified on his own behalf Saturday, insisting that he remembers nothing about the traffic collision last summer that killed a motorcyclist.

However, Janklow, who still has his driver's license and drives, acknowledged to the court that he often does not stop for stop signs and routinely exceeds the speed limit.

During his 2 1/2 hours on the stand, the state's former attorney general and four-term governor -- and now its sole congressman -- painted himself as a victim in the Aug. 16 crash.

Janklow, 64, is accused of running a stop sign on a rural road in eastern South Dakota, striking and killing 55-year-old Randolph E. Scott, a farmer from Minnesota. Scott was killed instantly; Janklow broke his hand and suffered from a head injury that led to bleeding on the brain.

"You can't imagine what this is like," Janklow said. "I wake up every night sweating."

If convicted on the felony count of second-degree manslaughter and lesser charges, Janklow could face a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine -- in addition to the potential end of his political career. Closing arguments in the case are expected to begin Monday.

Snow swirled around the entrance of the Moody County Circuit Courthouse early Saturday morning, bringing a chill to the crowd that had come to hear the words of the man who speaks for them in Congress.

As Janklow arrived at the courthouse in his hometown, he was jovial and friendly for the first time during his trial, joking with the TV camera crews and smiling at newspaper reporters.

But later, as Janklow sat in the court's witness chair, he appeared nervous and reflective, his brows furrowed in concentration and his hands clenched together in his lap.

Over and over, Janklow told the court that he didn't remember any of the specifics from the accident itself, or many of the events surrounding it. Medical experts for the defense attributed the lost memory to Janklow's head injury.

"I don't know what I really remember," said Janklow, speaking so softly that several jurors leaned out of their chairs to hear. Others bent over notepads and scribbled furiously.

"Driving. That's it," Janklow said. "Just driving."

Long known for his brash and blunt demeanor, Janklow bristled during cross examination when the prosecution peppered him with questions about details of his driving record and his medical conditions.

The defense has argued that Janklow, a diabetic, hadn't eaten anything the day of the accident, and therefore his reactions were slowed by hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. Janklow explained that a tight work schedule had prevented him from eating any meals after taking his insulin -- despite the fact that the politician knew the risks.

"I just plain forgot or I'd have eaten," he said. When defense attorney Ed Evans asked why he forgot, Janklow replied: "I've asked myself that 10 million times since that day."

Medical experts last week testified that Janklow might not have recognized his condition because he was taking Atenolol, a drug used to treat hypertension. The drug, which slows down the heart and affects circulation, may have masked the shakiness and sweating that typically tip off diabetics to a hypoglycemic attack.

What Janklow said he does remember of the day corroborates testimony by others that he passed up several opportunities to eat.

After skipping breakfast at a restaurant in Aberdeen, he drove with his chief of staff, Chris Braendlin, to the home of Harvey Jewett, a friend, to talk about upcoming pharmaceutical legislation and a pheasant hunt that Janklow wanted to host. Food was available at Jewett's house, but Janklow said he did not eat it because "it was too sugary."

Janklow then went on to speak at a Korean War anniversary celebration with Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) at the Brown County fairgrounds. Offered a barbecue sandwich, he said he turned it down for fear of spilling the sauce on himself, and concern the sauce had onions in it, to which he is allergic.

After a heated exchange with a heckler, Janklow said he and Braendlin drove to Janklow's home in Brandon.

The last clear thing Janklow remembers, he said, is steering the car left out of the fairground's parking lot.

Under cross-examination, Janklow admitted he routinely breaks the rules of the road. When the prosecution asked whether he regularly stopped at stop signs, Janklow acknowledged that he didn't, particularly during his four terms as governor.

"When I'm on emergency stuff ... I'd run stop signs," Janklow said.

Prosecutor Bill Ellingson then asked: What if he was simply running late to an event? Would he run the stop sign?

Replied Janklow: "Probably."

Janklow later acknowledged that he has driven six times since the accident in August, but did not say to where.

Los Angeles Times Articles