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SD AG won't open file on Benda death

SIOUX FALLS (AP) — Members of the media will not be allowed to review investigative records into the death of a former state economic development director because a family member has not given written permission, South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley said Wednesday.

Rich Benda  Richard Benda, who served as secretary of tourism and state development from 2006 to 2010 under former Gov. Mike Rounds, was found shot to death on Oct. 22 in a grove near Lake Andes. His death was ruled a suicide.

Bob Mercer, a Pierre-based reporter who writes for several of the state's daily newspapers, asked the attorney general to release the investigative file after Jackley issued his findings.

Jackley agreed to allow Mercer and one other reporter to review a partially redacted version of the file, but only if a member of Benda's immediate family granted written permission. Benda's daughter's mother refused consent, he said.

"While the Attorney General is not concerned that the investigation evidence will not support the independent findings of the pathologist, the coroner's death certificate or state, federal, and local law enforcement death scene investigation, the Attorney General is concerned it may well affect the innocent members of a family or a minor child," Jackley wrote in a later dated Wednesday.

Mercer is asking Jackley to drop the requirement that family members have to give written permission.

Benda was also the subject of a state economic development investigation, which found that he double-billed the state for three flights, valued at about $5,500.