RAPID CITY, S.D. – The Pennington County State’s Attorney’s Office announced Thursday they had been notified of the cancellation of the Richard Hirth trial.
The Pennington County State’s Attorney’s Office released the following:
The State’s Attorney’s Office and the South Dakota Attorney General’s Office are profoundly disappointed to announce the unexpected cancellation of the highly anticipated murder trial of Richard Hirth due to an issue that led an expert witness for the defense to be compromised.
The State recently learned that the defense’s expert witness, Dr. William Stratford, entered into a Civil Settlement Agreement with the federal government following an investigation by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) that alleges he violated the Controlled Substances Act. Hirth’s attorneys asked the Judge to bar the State from asking questions about the DEA’s investigation or the settlement. The Judge denied that motion. Following that denial, Dr. Stratford indicated, through Hirth’s attorneys, that he would plead the 5th if asked about the settlement. He eventually indicated a complete refusal to testify. Seventh Circuit Court Judge Heidi Linngren ruled that Dr. Stratford, integral to the Defense’s case, is no longer a credible witness. Therefore Mr. Hirth’s right to a fair trial is also compromised.
The cancellation of this trial is a significant blow to our pursuit of justice for Jessica Rehfeld and her family, who have waited more than seven years to receive the closure they deserve. Our office has invested considerable time and resources in preparing a solid case against the defendant, believing firmly in the strength of the evidence and the importance of holding the accused accountable for their alleged actions. Our team of dedicated prosecutors, investigators, support staff, expert witnesses, and others worked diligently to assemble the necessary evidence, interview witnesses, and prepare for a fair and just trial. The victim’s family placed their trust in the criminal justice system, and we shared their hopes for a resolution to this tragic case.
“The cancellation of the trial has not only left the prosecution deeply upset but also left the victim’s family with a sense of injustice. We understand their frustration and devastation, and we remain committed to seeking justice on their behalf.,” said State’s Attorney Lara Roetzel.
We want to express our gratitude to the jurors who participated in four days of jury selection only to be told the trial was canceled. We ask for the public’s understanding and patience as we navigate this challenging situation and work to ensure that justice is ultimately served.