Two people who committed Davison County felonies will be spending less time behind bars after their sentences were reduced this week.
Merle Northrup, 49, had a year taken off what was a five-year sentence for aggravated grand theft, while 29-year-old Jeremiah Hart received credit for 84 days he served in jail in Beadle County before being transported to Davison County, where he was convicted of aggravated assault against a law enforcement officer. First Circuit Court Judge Chris Giles made the decisions Tuesday in Mitchell.
Northrup’s motion for a sentence modification was based around what he plans to do after he gets out of prison. Northrup was, prior to Tuesday’s hearing, expected to be parole eligible in July 2020, and the commercial driver’s license he currently holds will expire in February of the same year.
Northrup was sentenced in April 2018 for selling a Mount Vernon couple’s corn and soybeans under his own name and keeping $411,220.68 in profits. Prior to Tuesday’s hearing, 10 years of Northrup’s 15-year sentence were suspended on the condition that he repay the amount involved in the theft.
In addition to several of Northrup’s family members, representatives from a trucking company that is considering hiring Northrup were present in the courtroom.
While Northrup, who currently resides in the penitentiary’s minimum-security unit, would have soon been eligible for work release and could have paid some of his restitution with money earned then, he would have had to give a large percentage of the money earned back to the Department of Corrections, leaving little to go toward restitution.
Northrup requested to have two additional years suspended from his sentence, and Giles suspended one year, making Northrup eligible for parole in January, just before his license is set to expire. When explaining the reasoning behind suspending 11 years, rather than 10, Giles said he wanted to retain the sentencing court’s goal of balancing punishment with restitution.
Giles said he suspended the additional time because allowing the CDL to expire would greatly reduce the amount of restitution Northrup would be able to pay over the rest of his life, and he instead wants to see as much restitution paid as possible.
“Realistically, with the hundreds of thousands of dollars in restitution, I’m not sure it will ever be fully repaid,” Giles said.
Though Northrup’s sentence amendment was aimed at affecting his future, Hart’s clarified a past issue that was not directly addressed by his original sentence.
While in the Davison County Jail in 2013 for charges of assaulting a woman while stealing her purse and alleged involvement in a car fire the previous fall, Hart repeatedly hit an officer in the face until he was unconscious, breaking three bones in the man’s face and necessitating hospitalization and facial reconstruction surgery.
For that offense, Hart was given a 25-year sentence with 10 years suspended in October 2013. The concern addressed Tuesday did not directly involve prison time or Davison County, but rather the 84 days Hart said he sat in the Beadle County Jail on misdemeanor charges before being transferred to Davison County.
Hart said during his hearing that he felt misled about how the time he sat in Beadle County related to his plea agreement, stating he thought getting credit for that time, even though it wasn’t in the same county or related to the same offense as the charge to which he pleaded guilty, was part of a global plea deal.
Hart later said his attorney hadn’t told him prior to his acceptance of the plea deal that the charges in Beadle County had been dropped independently, not as part of the deal.
Giles amended Hart’s sentence nunc pro tunc - a legal term meaning “now for then” - to give him credit for the 84 days served in Beadle County in 2012. He made the decision after reviewing the transcript of Hart’s sentencing and finding that it didn’t specify whether or not Hart should be given credit for that time.
Hart, who is currently housed in the Jameson Annex, a maximum-security facility adjacent to the penitentiary in Sioux Falls, and will be eligible for parole in 2024, said he believes habeas corpus and other issues exist within his case, but Giles said those would have to be addressed by other courts.