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A man accused of assaulting a state Highway Patrol trooper in 2015 has been set for a December trial, where his former co-defendants are expected to testify against him.

Donald Willingham, 35, is charged in Pennington County with attempted first-degree murder and aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer for allegedly beating up Trooper Zachary Bader following a traffic stop on Interstate 90.

According to authorities, the October 2015 incident occurred after Bader stopped a SUV carrying Willingham and three other people, and discovered drugs in the vehicle. Bader reportedly suffered serious injuries, including multiple facial fractures.

Willingham, of Renton, Wash., is charged also with possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, possession of marijuana and commission of a felony with a firearm.

On Wednesday, Willingham and his two lawyers reappeared before Judge Wally Eklund, who scheduled a jury trial Dec. 18 to 20. Willingham’s last court appearance was in December 2016, when his lead attorney, Dennis Doherty, requested that he undergo a mental health evaluation.

The evaluation didn’t reveal any issues that prevented Willingham from standing trial, said Deputy State’s Attorney Josh Hendrickson, one of the case prosecutors.

Willingham’s three companions, his former co-defendants, pleaded guilty last year to possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and being an accessory to a crime.

Washington residents Jonathan Melendez, Chase Sukert and Desiree Sukert made the admissions as part of a deal with prosecutors, in which they agreed to testify against Willingham.

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They will be scheduled for sentencing on Dec. 20, the last day of Willingham’s trial, according to court proceedings Wednesday. All are out on bond.

Willingham’s most serious charges — attempted first-degree murder, aggravated assault and the firearm offense — are each punishable by up to 25 years in prison. The marijuana charges each carry a maximum of 15 years.

He is detained at the Pennington County Jail in lieu of $5 million bail. Bader, meanwhile, returned to work about a year ago.

Contact Tiffany Tan at

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Cops and Courts Reporter

Cops and courts reporter for the Rapid City Journal