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Wessington Springs man pleads insanity to 29 charges in alleged Chamberlain jail escape, knife threats

A psychiatric evaluation has been ordered by the court.

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CHAMBERLAIN — A Wessington Springs man has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to 29 charges across two cases, prompting two judges to order a psychiatric evaluation.

Jesse Knight, 31, of Wessington Springs, is facing charges for an incident on Sept. 30 in Buffalo County where he allegedly threatened to cut two people he was in a vehicle with, and for an incident on Oct. 4 where he allegedly beat an inmate and a jailer with an iron during an escape from the Brule County Jail .

He was charged with 23 felonies, five misdemeanors and one unclassified charge for the two incidents. Four of those felonies are Class 2 felony attempted murder charges.

Based upon a motion by Knight's court-appointed attorney, Brad Schreiber, a Buffalo County judge on Oct. 19 appointed Dr. Ada Powell, of Pierre Psychology, to conduct a psychiatric evaluation of Knight to "determine his competency to stand trial and insanity at the time of the alleged offenses."

The court order also specifies that Powell can aid in Knight's defense case, based on her findings.

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According to Powell's curriculum vitae, which was submitted to the court, she has over 30 years of clinical experience in mental health services and has practiced in South Dakota since Aug. 2015. She labels herself as having specialized training to conduct competency and fitness to proceed evaluations.

South Dakota law deems mental incompetency as suffering from a "mental disease" to the extent that a defendant is "unable to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against the (defendant) or to assist properly in (the defendant's) defense."

Anyone deemed mentally incompetent is forbidden from being tried, sentenced or punished "while (the defendant) is mentally incompetent." The law does not explain how a defendant would later be deemed mentally competent.

If Knight were to be deemed unfit for trial, the court is required to order he be placed in a restoration to competency program, committed to the custody of an approved residential facility or placed on outpatient status for a restoration to competency program if the defendant is not considered to be a danger to the health and safety of others.

Should Knight be deemed fit for trial, he faces a maximum sentence of up to 347 years in prison, a $644,000 fine or both for his alleged escape, and a maximum of 60 years in prison, a fine of $120,000 or both for the alleged threats with a knife.

Knight is due in a Buffalo and Brule County courtroom on Dec. 7 for a status hearing on both cases.

A South Dakota native, Hunter joined Forum Communications Company as a reporter for the Mitchell (S.D.) Republic in June 2021 and now works as a digital reporter for Forum News Service, focusing on local news in Sioux Falls. He also writes regional news spanning across the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
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