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South Dakota school shooter's rape trial postponed again, facing up to 225 years in prison

If convicted and found in violation of his probation, Mason Buhl would face 225 years in prison and ordered to pay as much as $400,000 in fines.

Mason Buhl
Mason Buhl walks through the Lincoln County (S.D.) Courthouse ahead of a court appearance on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015, one day after shooting the principal of Harrisburg High School.
Barry Amundson / Forum News Service
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PIERRE, S.D. — A school shooter now facing rape charges in South Dakota had a jury trial postponed yet again, causing the now reopened shooting case to stretch to over seven years of proceedings.

Mason Buhl, 23, of Sioux Falls, faces four counts of second degree rape, a charge involving force, coercion or threats, in Hughes County.

After pleading not guilty to each count in September 2021, a jury trial was set to take place in February 2022, though it was postponed for a period of stipulation between the prosecution and the defense. As the rescheduled hearing approached in May, the defense asked for a continuance until October which was granted. The latest delay in the trial was at the request of the prosecution.

Though court documents indicate the alleged rapes took place between June 2020 and July 2021, Buhl was not arrested until charges were formally filed in August 2021. Though the court has sealed an affidavit supporting the charges from Buhl’s then-girlfriend, documents from the victim petitioning the court for a protection order between her and Buhl provided some insight into Buhl’s alleged behavior.

“When I was late, he would punch me with a closed fist, stating that is what will happen if I get pregnant,” the victim wrote.

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The application also claims Buhl would text the victim’s friends from her phone to sever their friendships, and would not allow the victim to drive, shower, go to work, use the Wi-Fi and would even control her diet.

“He also pinched me very hard when I ate something he did not prepare for me. In December and January 2021, I was only allowed rice. In February 2021 I was only allowed to eat black beans,” she wrote. “Most recently in May 2021, I was only allowed to eat bread.”

A temporary protection order was granted to the victim in Sioux Falls in July 2021, and has been repeatedly renewed as a temporary order until a comprehensive and final hearing can come before the court this month.

HARRISBURG, S.D. - "It was just a bullet." That's how Kevin Lein describes his recovery after getting shot last week. Lein, 57, was shot in the arm in his office at Harrisburg High School, where he is the principal. The bullet hit the ulna and th...

2015 school shooting case reopened

On Sep. 30, 2015, Buhl entered the office of Kevin Lein, then-principal of Harrisburg High School near Sioux Falls. He fired a single shot, which struck Lein’s arm. While attempting to escape, he was tackled by assistant principal Ryan Rollinger and detained until law enforcement arrived.

One week later, Buhl was charged with attempted murder, as well as other felonies, for the shooting. Nearly two years after the initial charging, he accepted a plea deal offered by the prosecution — Buhl would plead guilty to one count of attempted murder in exchange for other charges being dismissed.

As a result of Buhl’s agreement to submit to a psychiatric evaluation — and a belief among attorneys that Buhl could be rehabilitated — Judge Brad Zell sentenced Buhl to 15 years of probation, with a 25-year prison sentence suspended so long as Buhl stays free of further legal trouble.

"If you exhibit any, any violent behavior whatsoever, I will be quick from any judgment to remove you from society," Zell told Buhl in a 2017 sentencing hearing.

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Court documents dictate other terms of Buhl’s probation, including that he refrain from possessing dangerous weapons — something that the victim of the alleged rapes believes he violated.

“He also recently bought knives on Ebay … and would mimic stabbing people,” she wrote in a protection order application. “I fear he will further physically abuse me or kill me based on his previous actions and history towards me.”

Zell has since retired, leaving the option to impose a 25-year prison sentence for Buhl in the hands of Rachel Rasmussen, a former public defender who was appointed to a judgeship by Gov. Kristi Noem in 2019.

Should Buhl be convicted on all charges in one case and found in violation of the terms of his suspended sentence, he could be sentenced to serve as many as 225 years in prison and ordered to pay as much as $400,000 in fines. He's currently out on a $50,000 cash bond.

Prosecutors told Forum News Service in August 2021 that any proceedings involving the reopened school shooting case would not take place until the rape case is concluded.

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A South Dakota native, Hunter joined Forum Communications Company as a reporter for the Mitchell (S.D.) Republic in June 2021. After over a year in Mitchell, he moved to Milwaukee, where he now works as a digital reporter for Forum News Service, focusing on regional news that impacts the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
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