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Trial moved for man accused of Gregory Co. murder

DALLAS, S.D. — The trial for a man accused of killing a Gregory County mother of seven has been moved out of the county due to potential bias of jurors.

The trial for Chance Harruff, scheduled for May, will be held in Fort Pierre, according to recently filed court documents, after a pre-trial survey of potential jurors showed significant bias among jurors who believe Harruff is guilty of murder.

The trial stems from June 2017, when court documents say that Harruff and 38-year-old Kristi Olson got into an argument and Harruff allegedly struck Olson with a "mule strength punch" to her chest, knocking her to the floor. Harruff — whose residence is listed as Hamill, a Tripp County town about 35 miles northwest of Gregory — then allegedly left the scene, not knowing if Olson needed medical assistance.

When officers arrived, they found Olson with possible bruising on her neck. She was transported to a hospital in Gregory where she was pronounced dead.

According to court documents, family members and law enforcement officers told South Dakota Department of Criminal Investigation officers the couple had a volatile and violent relationship that led to several previous incidents of domestic violence, but Olson always refused to notify authorities. The couple had lived together, but Harruff recently moved out of Olson's residence.

Olson was a lifelong resident of Gregory County and owned a local business, according to court documents, and her children still reside in the Dallas community.

A questionnaire mailed to more than 200 Gregory County residents showed nearly half had already formed an opinion that Harruff is guilty of murder. Many of them also indicated they believe Harruff deserves the death penalty if found guilty of the crime, but the prosecution is not seeking the death penalty in this case.

Additionally, prosecution and defense attorneys believe "a significant number" of potential jurors have personal relationships with witnesses, law enforcement and Olson's family, which would lead to their dismissal from the jury.

"The evidence presented establishes a reasonable apprehension that the accused will not be able to receive a fair and impartial trial in Gregory County," Judge Bobbi Rank wrote in a letter to attorneys. "It would be a waste of resources to dedicate multiple days to arduous jury selection in Gregory County, only then to determine that the venue must be changed."

Harruff was charged with second-degree murder, domestic abuse second-degree murder, first-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter.

The difference between the first- and second-degree murder charges, according to South Dakota Codified Law, is that second-degree murder occurs "without any premeditated design to effect the death of any particular person, including any unborn child." Unlike first-degree murder, second-degree murder is a Class B felony and does not carry the death penalty.

First-degree manslaughter is a Class C felony, with a maximum penalty of life in prison and a $50,000 fine and is done while in the heat of passion, and the killing is not excusable or justifiable.