Three people charged in connection with a 2015 traffic stop that left a South Dakota state trooper badly injured pleaded guilty on Tuesday to two of their four original charges in a deal that includes testifying against a former co-defendant.

Jonathan Melendez, 22, Chase Sukert, 24, and Desiree Sukert, 26, all residents of Washington state, pleaded guilty to possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and being an accessory to a crime.  

Pennington County prosecutors agreed to drop illegal use of a firearm and other drug charges in a deal for their information against Donald Willingham.

Willingham, 34, is charged with attempted first-degree murder and aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer. He allegedly led the Oct. 24, 2015, attack on Bader, who stopped the vehicle carrying the four defendants on Interstate 90 east of Rapid City.

Bader suffered serious injuries during the struggle while attempting to arrest the group.

In April, the court granted Willingham’s request for a separate trial because his co-defendants made incriminating statements against him.

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Melendez and the Sukert siblings each signed a “statement of factual basis” admitting their roles. Before accepting their guilty pleas, 7th Circuit Judge Wally Eklund listed the rights that Melendez and the Sukert siblings were giving up by accepting the plea agreement. They agreed to waive a jury trial, remaining silent, being presumed innocent, and calling and questioning witnesses.  

Desiree Sukert, who appeared last, was asked by Eklund an additional question: “Since the time of your arrest, have you been mistreated by any member of law enforcement?” She said no. She started dabbing at her eyes with a tissue when Eklund began talking about the penalties for the charges the three faced: up to 15 years in prison and $30,000 in fines for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, as well as 5 years in prison and $10,000 in fines for being an accessory to a crime.

After the hearing, State’s Attorney Mark Vargo said his plan is to conclude Willingham’s trial before his three former co-defendants are sentenced. But Vargo noted the judge will decide their sentencing date.

Willingham is detained at the Pennington County Jail on a $5 million bond. Melendez and the Sukerts have been released on a bond of $50,000 apiece.

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Cops and Courts Reporter

Cops and courts reporter for the Rapid City Journal