A Pennington County judge on Monday said she will limit what lawyers and others involved can say publicly about the Jessica Rehfeld murder case.
A defense attorney for suspect Jonathon Klinetobe requested the “gag order.” The attorney, Elizabeth Regalado, said ongoing publicity could taint community opinions and damage fair trials for her client and fellow defendants Richard Hirth and David Schneider.
Authorities allege that Klinetobe, 26, hired Hirth, 35, and Schneider, 24, to kill his ex-girlfriend Rehfeld last year. The 22-year-old Rapid City woman was last seen by friends on May 18, 2015. Police considered her a missing person until a witness came forward this May and led law enforcement to her graveyard in the woods south of Rockerville.
The men now face felony charges of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping in the first degree and conspiracy to commit aggravated kidnapping in the first degree.
“Since Mr. Klinetobe’s arrest, information related to the crime, witness statements and information regarding possible other acts (or) evidence has been made available to the press and has been reported in nearly every news media in the state,” Regalado said in a court filing, referring to a press conference held by the Rapid City Police Department, Pennington County Sheriff’s Office and State’s Attorney’s Office.
“At this point in the case, it is unclear whether the reported information is undisputed evidence, however, this is the information that is being provided as facts to potential jurors.”
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The state’s attorney’s office, in a written response, said prosecutors are not against a gag order that would protect the defendant’s right to a fair trial. But the order should not hinder prosecutors from putting together their case or violate “the media’s First Amendment right to disseminate public information to the community.”
Seventh Circuit Judge Heidi Linngren agreed with the state’s attorney’s proposal, and will issue a written order on the matter. Linngren told State’s Attorney Mark Vargo, defense attorneys and law enforcement officers involved in the case that from now on, they can only discuss court hearing dates and procedures with the media and other members of the public.
No party is allowed to hold press conferences or conduct discussions outside professional settings, Linngren said at a hearing Monday afternoon.
After the hearing, Vargo said: “There will be no factual discussions about this case from here on out.”
Klinetobe, Hirth and Schneider, who appeared in court with their attorneys, stayed quiet throughout the proceedings.
The men are detained at the Pennington County Jail on bonds of $2 million apiece, and are scheduled to return to court in August.