PLANKINTON-Two days past the one-year anniversary of police finding David Hart dead in his apartment, a Chamberlain man pleaded not guilty to murder by reason of insanity Wednesday afternoon at the Aurora County Courthouse.
The trial of 20-year-old Nicholas Yellow Lodge, which was previously scheduled to begin on July 8, will be delayed in order to give both sides time to adjust their cases to the new plea and to allow extra time for jury selection and medical testimony.
Yellow Lodge is accused of killing Hart by hitting him in the head with a glass liquor bottle multiple times last June. He is charged with first-degree and second-degree murder and with first-degree robbery.
"I don't think we had enough time, and I think it's too soon," Judge Patrick Smith said of the dates previously scheduled for trial.
Smith decided to wait to reschedule the trial until July 17, before which availability for counsel and expert witnesses can be determined. He speculated that the trial could be scheduled for December at the earliest and will more likely be held in 2020.
Medical expert approved, reconstruction experts denied
After Yellow Lodge's plea was changed, Smith granted the defense's motion to appoint Dr. Matthew Christiansen as an expert to assist in presenting the insanity plea.
Christiansen evaluated Yellow Lodge's mental competency to stand trial in January and found, according to an affidavit filed on May 29 by Doug Papendick, one of Yellow Lodge's attorneys, that "there is modest support for the finding that Mr. Yellow Lodge met the definition of insanity with respect to the charge of murder in the first degree."
Christiansen's services will be retained for $200 per hour and up to $10,000 total, to be paid by Brule County.
Also discussed at Wednesday's hearing was a motion filed by Papendick and Yellow Lodge's other attorney, Zachary Flood, to dismiss the case, suppress evidence taken from Hart's apartment or allow the use of two crime scene construction experts at a cost of $25,000.
The motion, which Smith ultimately denied, argued that the state failed to adequately preserve evidence from the apartment where the murder allegedly occurred and that the defense had not been given an adequate opportunity to inspect the scene and evidence.
"There could be exculpatory evidence that the state destroyed or allowed to be destroyed," Papendick said.
Smith said counsel would be permitted to inspect the crime scene on their own, but said he wouldn't authorize hiring reconstruction experts without the defense justifying the cost.
"I don't think there's any particular expertise required to run a tape measure," Smith said.
Papendick replied that while he and Flood would be capable of inspecting the scene on their own, they would be unable to testify as experts.
Brule County State's Attorney Michael Moore noted that law enforcement had already preserved and photographed the scene before it was turned over to the building's management. He said that the defense was "playing with Monopoly money" by asking for $25,000 in Brule County tax dollars without presenting a specific reason reconstruction would be necessary for the case.
A case in four counties
Hearings in Yellow Lodge's case are currently being held in Aurora County as a central meeting point for all parties: Smith, Papendick and Flood are all based in Mitchell, Moore is traveling from Brule County and Yellow Lodge is currently being held in the Winner City Jail, where he was moved for mental health monitoring.
Flood asked about the possibility of moving Yellow Lodge to the Davison County Jail in order to minimize the time and expense of driving him to Mitchell to meet with his attorneys and Christiansen leading up to the trial.
Smith said he wouldn't order Yellow Lodge to be moved, but that he had no issue with the transfer if it's approved by both Davison and Brule counties.