FLANDREAU, S.D. – Rep. Bill Janklow (search) suffered a diabetic reaction that caused him to speed through a stop sign and collide with a motorcycle, his defense lawyer said Monday as the South Dakota political icon went on trial on a manslaughter charge.
But the prosecutor said Janklow was fully aware of what he was doing when he ran the stop sign in his Cadillac while doing more than 70 mph in a 55-mph zone.
"Randy Scott was killed that Saturday afternoon as the result of Bill Janklow blowing through that blind intersection at approximately 71 mph," prosecutor Roger Ellyson told jurors. "All because of the reckless disregard. All because of that important person driving that important-looking Cadillac."
Janklow, 64, is charged with second-degree manslaughter, speeding, running a stop sign and reckless driving for an Aug. 16 collision that killed Randy Scott (search), 55, of Hardwick, Minn.
The trial threatens to derail the career of a man who is one of South Dakota's most powerful political figures. The blunt, tough-talking Republican served as attorney general for four years in the 1970s and another 16 years as governor before being elected to South Dakota's lone House seat last year.
If convicted of manslaughter, the maximum punishment is 10 years in prison. It would also prompt the House ethics committee to investigate.
During his opening statement, defense lawyer Ed Evans signaled that he would use a medical defense to explain that Janklow did not see the stop sign at the rural intersection surrounded by flat corn and soybean fields.
Evans said Janklow stopped for every other stop sign on his way home from an event in Aberdeen that night, but did not see the one east of Trent because he had not eaten all day and had a diabetic reaction that can cause confusion, lethargy and fatigue.
People will testify that Janklow had not eaten and medical experts will describe how Janklow could have had such a reaction by taking his insulin but not eating, Evans said.
He said it is unreasonable to suggest Janklow consciously ignored the stop sign.
"Only a fool or someone attempting to commit suicide ... would do that," Evans said. "Nobody could be more sorry than Mr. Janklow."
Testimony was scheduled to begin Tuesday morning with prosecution witnesses. On the list of 25 possible prosecution witnesses is Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle, who was with Janklow in Aberdeen that day.
In his opening statements, Ellyson told jurors the state's witnesses will include a woman who said Janklow passed her a few miles before the accident. He went by her "as if she was standing still," Ellyson said.
Ellyson also plans to call people who witnessed the crash, including a Minnesota man who "saw a white flash and the collision and saw Randy Scott's body thrown in the air. And he didn't see another car."
Ellyson said other witnesses include law enforcement officers who said Janklow told them at the accident scene that he had to swerve to avoid a vehicle and that's why he "goosed it" through the intersection.
An aide who was with Janklow said there was no indication the congressman was suffering from a diabetic reaction, said Ellyson. And Janklow told one person at the scene that he had eaten a few hours earlier, Ellyson said.
A jury of nine women and four men was seated earlier Monday despite a selection process that revealed Janklow's enormous popularity and the difficulty of finding impartial jurors in a small town where everyone knows each other. The trial is being held in Janklow's hometown of Flandreau.
"This case scares me," Ellyson said. "It scares me because the defendant is so well known, and this is his hometown -- a fact I'm reminded of every time I drive into town."
Green signs are posted on the roads entering town, telling people that Flandreau is the congressman's hometown.
One potential juror said he has "a close friendship, relationship with Mr. Janklow." After being excused, the man walked over and shook hands with the former four-term governor on his way out the door. Another said he knows Janklow's mother and his family.
In addition, about a half-dozen potential jurors knew lead prosecutor Bill Ellingson from church, and many of those who were excused said they had ongoing or recent business with him.
Janklow, dressed in a blue suit and tie, wrote down the potential jurors' names during the selection. He appeared relaxed and had his pen in his hand most of the time. Janklow rarely spoke to his lawyer.
Circuit Judge Rodney Steele said the case likely will take five to seven days.
The House ethics committee's rules say representatives who plead guilty or are convicted of a crime that carries two or more years in prison should refrain from voting or taking part in committee meetings in the chamber until their record is cleared or until re-elected.
The ethics committee could also recommend a House resolution reprimanding him, censuring him or even expelling him, though the House rarely expels members. After Ohio Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. (search) was convicted in federal court last year for bribery, racketeering and tax evasion, he became only the second House member to be expelled since the Civil War.