Wessington Springs murder suspect pleads not guilty, jury trial scheduled
Caffee pleaded not guilty to eight felonies, but did not enter a plea to 17 other charges
WESSINGTON SPRINGS — A Wessington Springs man accused of murdering his wife’s grandmother in an October shooting has pleaded not guilty to eight felony charges.
Mitch Caffee, 38, appeared in a Jerauld County courtroom Thursday morning, entering a not guilty plea to charges including two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of commission of a felony with a firearm, and one count each of first-degree kidnapping, first-degree burglary, aggravated domestic assault and violation of a protection order.
TIMELINE: Mitch Caffee was arrested twice in months before alleged murder
Each first-degree murder charge is a Class A felony — the most severe category — and carries a maximum sentence of the death penalty.
Mitch Caffee, charged with murder in an October shooting that left his wife’s grandmother dead, was returned to the Beadle County Jail after pleading not guilty to 8 felony charges in Wessington Springs this morning. pic.twitter.com/c4zx0mqcC2
Mitch Caffee, charged with murder in an October shooting that left his wife’s grandmother dead, was returned to the Beadle County Jail after pleading not guilty to 8 felony charges in Wessington Springs this morning. pic.twitter.com/c4zx0mqcC2— Hunter Dunteman (@HRDunt) December 9, 2021
Prosecutors indicated that the state has not yet decided whether it intends to pursue the death penalty, but clarified the state will only seek death on one of Caffee’s Class A felonies. If he were to be convicted on both counts, the state will not seek two death sentences.
If the state decides not to pursue the death penalty on either Class A felony, South Dakota law dictates the minimum sentence upon conviction is life in the state penitentiary.
The court has ordered a jury trial to begin on Aug. 4, 2022. Prosecutors have until Feb. 23, 2022, to decide whether they intend to pursue the death penalty.
READ MORE: Wessington Springs murder suspect shot, killed wife’s grandmother during 3 a.m. confrontation, affidavit alleges
An individual can only be sentenced to death after a jury first convicts them of a crime, then holds a second vote on whether to impose capital punishment.
In reading Caffee his rights, a Jerauld County judge informed Caffee that, if convicted on the first-degree murder charge, one juror declining to impose the death penalty would result in an automatic life sentence.
Caffee did not enter a plea to 17 other charges, including three counts of murder, two counts of manslaughter, five counts of burglary and more — likely indicating an impending plea agreement.
No personal statements were made by Caffee at Thursday’s hearing.
The charges stem from an October shooting in the 400 block of West Main Street in Wessington Springs, where Caffee is accused of breaking down a door at a residence to confront his wife.
Days before the confrontation, Caffee had been arrested for domestic assault — though those charges were later dismissed.
READ MORE: Days before fatal shooting, Wessington Springs murder suspect asked wife where handgun was kept, police say
While at the residence, police say his wife’s grandmother had attempted to access a phone, an action Caffee responded to by allegedly shooting her dead.
Caffee is no stranger to the state’s legal system — in March 2016, he was indicted on 11 counts of rape of a minor and four counts of sexual contact with a child under 16. He was acquitted on all counts in a jury trial seven months later .
In his most recent set of charges, Caffee is represented by Sen. David Wheeler (R-Huron) and Jeffrey Banks, both of Huron to represent him in his murder case proceedings.
Wheeler, a first-term state senator representing parts of Beadle and Kingsbu ry Counties , serves on the South Dakota Senate’s Government Operations and Audit Committee — which is actively investigating accusations of nepotism lodged against Gov. Kristi Noem — and the Adult-Use Marijuana Study Subcommittee. He also runs a private practice law firm based in Huron.
Banks, a former Beadle County deputy state’s attorney and former city attorney for Huron, serves as a partner at Blue, Haeder and Banks Law in Huron. His firm’s website says Banks specializes in estate, business and family law.
Caffee is currently being held in the Beadle County Jail with no possibility of bond. Any future court appearances preceding a jury trial have yet to be scheduled.