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Evidence filings describe Harrisburg shooter’s ‘pattern, intent’ of abuse during Hughes County rape hearings

Mason Buhl was 16 years old when he shot Harrisburg High School principal Kevin Lien. While still on probation, he now faces 200 years in prison for allegations of rape.

Mason Buhl
Mason Buhl walks through the Lincoln County Courthouse before a court appearance in 2015. He was later convicted of attempted murder for shooting Harrisburg High School principal Kevin Lien.
Barry Amundson / Forum News Service
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EDITOR'S NOTE: This story contains graphic descriptions of alleged sexual abuse. It may not be suitable for all readers.

PIERRE — A judge in Hughes County has ruled to allow evidence that prosecutors believe demonstrates an escalating pattern of abuse a victim says she experienced during a relationship with Mason Buhl.

Now 22 years old, Mason Buhl is back inside a courtroom after he was charged with four counts of second-degree rape in August 2021 in Hughes County. The charges filed against him would be his first criminal appearance in a courtroom since he was convicted of attempted murder in a 2015 shooting at Harrisburg High School.

In November 2021, prosecutors in Hughes County filed a motion to introduce specific evidence to the courtroom that outline accusations of Buhl’s alleged pattern of escalation of emotional, physical and sexual abuse against his ex-girlfriend.

Despite Buhl’s defense counsel arguing against the admission, a Hughes County judge ordered on March 30 that a dozen of the 15 specific pieces of evidence the state had sought permission to use at trial would be admissible to a courtroom.

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In the order, Judge Bridget Mayer wrote that the admitted evidence is relative to the case and more probative than prejudicial, and can be used to establish Buhl’s “state of mind, motive, pattern, opportunity [and] intent” regarding the rape charges.

The allegations mostly hinge on Buhl’s alleged behavior toward the victim over the entire course of the relationship, though certain pieces of evidence point toward specific incidents.

“Controlling behavior and emotional abuse occurred throughout the duration of the defendant’s and [the victim’s] relationship, but it did not become physically abusive until 2021,” one piece of evidence reads, claiming to provide context and describe the nature of the relationship between the two.

Another piece of evidence claimed that at the beginning of their relationship, the victim had gained “a significant amount” of weight, and, as the relationship progressed, Buhl became “paranoid” about her food intake. It claims that as a result of Buhl limiting her diet to only rice, the victim lost 50 pounds in six months. She was also allegedly prohibited from consuming alcohol.

Further into their relationship, Buhl had begun purchasing knives off of eBay, one piece of admitted evidence claims. When he would become upset, he allegedly grabbed the knives and began stabbing the air while twisting the knife, telling the victim “this is how you do it right.”

In other violent allegations, Buhl allegedly fantasized about the couple dying together, describing to the victim how to drive a vehicle into a pole at “the right angle” to ensure both of their deaths. He allegedly formulated another plan to brandish weapons at law enforcement in an effort to prompt authorities to shoot both of them.

Continuing down an avenue more specifically aligned with Buhl’s charges, the defense will be allowed to admit evidence by recalling times that Buhl was allegedly intoxicated and wanted to engage in sex. Prosecutors claim that Buhl was unable to maintain an erection, and when sex wasn’t an option, would grab the victim by the hair and force her to provide oral sex.

Other evidence that was ruled inadmissible to the courtroom involved allegations that Buhl became obsessed with underaged neighbors and would watch girls from his window as they mowed their lawn. Those allegations were ruled to be more prejudicial than probative, meaning it may only be harmful to Buhl without offering any evidentiary purpose.

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Buhl was scheduled to appear in a Hughes County courtroom on Monday for a three-day jury trial, but the hearing was postponed in what was the second continuance of a trial.

The trial had originally been scheduled to commence in February, but the court postponed that hearing to allow for a period of stipulation between prosecutors and the defense. Monday’s trial was rescheduled at the request of the defense.

If convicted on all four charges, Buhl could be sentenced to serve up to 200 years in prison, plus be ordered to pay as much as $200,000 in fines.

The trial in Hughes County is only one part of Buhl’s legal woes.

Criminal charges in that case resulted in Lincoln County prosecutors reopening his 2015 attempted murder case for shooting Harrisburg High School principal Kevin Lien. His sentence of 25 years in prison was originally suspended, but a conviction in Hughes County could result in the imposition of his original sentence.

Buhl’s next court appearance between both cases is set for June 7, in Lincoln County, for a modification or revocation hearing.

Related Topics: CRIME AND COURTSSHOOTINGS
Dunteman covers general and breaking news as well as crime in the Mitchell Republic's 17-county coverage area. He grew up in Harrisburg, and has lived in South Dakota for over 20 years. He joined the Mitchell Republic in June 2021 after earning his bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He can be reached at HDunteman@MitchellRepublic.com, or on Twitter @HRDunt.
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