An inmate seeks a commutation recommendation from the South Dakota Board of Pardons and Paroles on Feb. 16, 2023, at the Jameson Annex of the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls. The inmate is addressing Board Chair Myron Rau. (John Hult/South Dakota Searchlight)
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story about commutations is part of a special report on executive clemency. An additional story explores pardons, and a commentary outlines difficulties encountered in obtaining pardon records.
A man who committed vehicular homicide in the 1990s pleaded guilty to exhibition driving last summer, six months after a state board granted him parole and two years after Gov. Kristi Noem reduced his prison sentence.
That’s one of the outcomes of 12 sentence reductions – formally known as “commutations” – that Noem has issued since she became governor in 2019.
She appears to have made no public mention of five of the commutations, unlike the seven she publicly announced last Christmas Eve. She is not legally required to provide notice to the public.
South Dakota Searchlight received copies of the 12 commutation orders from Noem’s office after submitting public records requests. Her spokesman did not respond to further questions.
Noem has used her commutation power less frequently than some previous governors, including her immediate predecessors Dennis Daugaard and Mike Rounds, who issued commutations in batches of dozens.
Daugaard and Rounds used commutations mostly to shave months off the end of prisoners’ sentences for good behavior. Noem has used it in some cases to shave years’ worth of time from sentences, and to immediately release people from prison.
With or without the board
State law gives governors sole authority to grant commutations, either unilaterally or after a recommendation from the Board of Pardons and Paroles.
Numbers provided by the board to South Dakota Searchlight show it has recommended at least nine commutations to Noem since she took office in 2019, and she has granted five of those – indicating she has declined or failed to act on some recommendations.
One such recommendation went to 69-year-old John Proctor, who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in 1973 in Meade County for the shooting of Arlon Hamm. The board recommended a commutation in August 2021, but Noem has not issued one.
Noem has also bypassed the board to issue commutations – as appears to have been the case with six of the seven she announced last Christmas Eve. State law allows her to do that, but by going it alone, Noem is ignoring an executive order she issued in 2019 that said she would refer all clemency applications for the board’s review.
When Noem has acted unilaterally, victims’ relatives have lost opportunities for notification and input that are built in to the Board of Pardons and Paroles process. After Noem released Whitney Renae Turney on parole, the family of Turney’s manslaughter victim, Calvin “C.J.” Shields, expressed disappointment that they had no notice of the action or opportunity to oppose it.
“My heart sank and my stomach was in knots,” Shields’ brother, Glenn Shields, told South Dakota Searchlight. “I couldn’t comprehend the decision.”
Noem has also gone against the board’s recommendations. The board twice denied a commutation recommendation for Tammy Jean Kvasnicka, in 2018 and 2022. Noem commuted Kvasnicka’s 60-year sentence for manslaughter and vehicular battery and paroled her.
Vehicular homicide to exhibition driving
In some cases, beneficiaries of Noem’s commutations have re-offended shortly after their release from prison.
The first commutation issued by Gov. Noem went to David Lynn Anderson in 2020. Anderson, who is now 56 years old, had been serving a 125-year prison sentence for vehicular homicide and vehicular battery.
In 1994, he was driving drunk at an estimated 60 mph over the speed limit when his car hydroplaned out of control in Sioux Falls and struck another vehicle. The driver of that vehicle, Galen Barta, was killed. Anderson, who was on parole at the time for other crimes, fled the scene and was arrested later.
While in prison, Anderson repeatedly sought a sentence reduction. He eventually gained support from the judge who imposed the sentence, and from the widow of his victim.
Anderson’s public court file includes a 2007 email from Judge Judith Meierhenry, who by that time had been elevated to a justice of the state Supreme Court. She described her sentence of Anderson as “unusually high.”
In 2012, JoAnn Barta Holst wrote a letter to a judge stating that Anderson had expressed “deep heartfelt regret” for causing her late husband’s death.
“My observation is that David Anderson has matured,” Barta Holst wrote. “He is not the young punk that was driving recklessly down East 10th Street.”
Public records indicate the Board of Pardons and Paroles conducted a commutation hearing for Anderson in February 2020, and Noem commuted Anderson’s sentence from 125 to 108 years in August 2020. The board paroled Anderson in February 2022. By that time, he had spent 27 years in prison.
Anderson was cited for exhibition driving six months later, in August 2022 in Yankton. State law defines the crime as driving “in such a manner that creates or causes unnecessary engine noise, tire squeal, skid, or slide upon acceleration or stopping; that simulates a temporary race; or that causes the vehicle to unnecessarily turn abruptly or sway.”
The public court file in that case contains few details other than a copy of the ticket. Anderson pleaded guilty in September and paid $132.50 in fees and fines.
No information is publicly available indicating whether or how that crime impacts Anderson’s status as a parolee. The Department of Corrections lists his status as “active parole.”
South Dakota Searchlight was not able to locate contact information for Anderson, and attorneys on both sides of his case did not respond to interview requests.
– South Dakota Searchlight’s John Hult contributed to this report.
Gov. Kristi Noem has issued 12 commutations since she became governor in 2019. She issued five of those without a public announcement, to the following people: Noem publicly announced seven commutations last Christmas Eve for the following people:
Gov. Kristi Noem has issued 12 commutations since she became governor in 2019. She issued five of those without a public announcement, to the following people:
Noem publicly announced seven commutations last Christmas Eve for the following people:
GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX
SUPPORT NEWS YOU TRUST.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.