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South Dakota Congressman Resigns After Manslaughter Conviction

BY Admin  December 9, 2003 at 3:23 PM EDT

The 64-year-old Janklow will be sentenced in January. His manslaughter conviction for speeding through a stop sign and killing a motorcyclist carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

By resigning, Janklow avoids facing a House ethics investigation and possible expulsion. House rules also say representatives who plead guilty or are convicted of a crime that carries more than two years in prison should not cast votes until their records are cleared, or until reelected.

Vacancies in the House of Representatives are filled by special elections, while gubernatorial appointees generally fill vacancies in the Senate.

Janklow’s resignation cleared the way for possible successors, including Republican John Thune, a former congressman who had been trying to decide whether to challenge Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle or run for Janklow’s seat should it open up.

Democrat Stephanie Herseth, who lost to Janklow in 2002, said in October she intends to run for the House again but won’t make a formal announcement until 2004.

The timing of Janklow’s resignation means the special election to fill his House seat will be held in conjunction with South Dakota’s June 1 primary. Both parties must nominate candidates by April 6.

Republicans currently control the House with 229 of the 435 seats. There are 205 Democrats and one independent.

Shortly after the jury returned its verdict, Janklow announced his resignation effective Jan. 20.

“I wish to inform you that because of present circumstances, I will be unable to perform the duties incumbent on me in representing the people of South Dakota as their U.S. representative,” the first-term congressman wrote in a letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

Jan. 20 is also the date that Moody County Judge Rodney Steele scheduled Janklow’s sentencing.

During the trial, prosecutors accused Janklow, an admitted chronic speeder, of playing “Russian Roulette” with his car and said that on Aug. 16 motorcyclist Randy Scott “took the bullet.”

Janklow’s lawyer wanted jurors to convict his client of two minor traffic charges and acquit him of second-degree manslaughter and reckless driving. The defense said Janklow, a diabetic, was too busy to eat the day of the crash and developed low blood sugar that clouded his judgment.

Janklow launched his career in 1975 as South Dakota’s attorney general. He served as governor from 1979 to 1987 and again from 1995 to 2003.