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It took a jury only 30 minutes to find Robert Goulding guilty of first-degree murder of his friend Allen Kissner, a precedent-setting four-day trial in which a Pennington County jury determined that killing a friend cannot be considered assisted suicide.

It was a unique case for Pennington County State's Attorney Glen Brenner, who admitted "it's the first time that we've heard … this defense that 'they wanted to die.'"

There have been other cases of assisted suicide where a gun or poison has been obtained for the victim.

"But it's the first time where someone actually committed the act that took the life," Brenner said.

Kissner, 56, was found dead near a picnic table at Sheridan Lake's Dakota Point on Nov. 24, 2008. He died from a single gunshot wound to the head.

Goulding said Kissner wanted to commit suicide but wanted help. Goulding said he put a gun in Kissner's ear and pulled the trigger.

"You simply get help for them," Brenner said. "You don't grab a gun and end their life. You don't have a right to do that. There's no excuse for that."

Kissner's niece, Amber Walburg, spoke for her family after the verdict Thursday.

"It's just really sad having to go through all this," Walburg said. "It's nice to know in the end that someone is going to get punished for all this … the thing that they did. But the whole situation is sad."

First-degree murder carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison. Brenner said the circumstances of the case did not meet the criteria for the death penalty.

Kissner's family does not believe Kissner wanted to die. If he had, he would have avoided involving anyone else, Walburg said.

"He would never have put someone in this situation," Walburg said. "He would never have made somebody go through this."

Walburg said the past year has been very hard on her family, who has traveled from Redfield throughout the court process.

"Just thinking about how things happened and the way my uncle was left outside," Walburg said. "You're constantly thinking about it. It's always on your mind. It never goes away.

"And it's not over for us."

An appeal is expected from Goulding's defense attorney, Tim Rensch, who tried unsuccessfully to convince the jury that Goulding had acted as a good friend when he pulled the trigger on the gun that killed Kissner. Rensch had hoped to convince the jury this was an assisted suicide, a Class 6 felony punishable by up to two years in prison.

"This was no murder," Rensch argued.

Kissner "aided and abetted" in his own death by hiding in Goulding's car and going with him to Dakota Point, Rensch told the jury during closing statements.

"It doesn't fit," Brenner said. "Mr. Goulding was the actor. He's the one who pulled the trigger on the gun."

Brenner praised 7th Circuit Judge Merton Tice for instructing the jury that Kissner's death was not "suicide as a matter of the law."

Basically, the instruction said "if there's an overt act by a person to take the life of another, it is not suicide," Brenner said. "That's the law we're going to create with this case."

Goulding's sentencing is set for Nov. 25. Until that time, Tice has made arrangements for him to be fitted with a tracking monitor and allowed him to remain under house arrest.

Contact Andrea Cook at 394-8523 or andrea.cook@rapidcityjournal.com.

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