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Trooper Zachary Bader

Trooper Zachary Bader

The South Dakota Supreme Court has unanimously upheld the conviction of a Washington man who nearly killed a Highway Patrol trooper during a 2015 traffic stop near Box Elder. 

Donald Willingham was sentenced to 45 years in prison after a Pennington County Jury convicted him in 2017 of attempted murder and aggravated assault against Trooper Zachary Bader, as well as drug and firearm offenses.

Shiloh MacNally, Willingham's defense lawyer, appealed to the S.D. Supreme Court, arguing that retired judge Wally Eklund was wrong to deny motions to suppress Willingham's statements and evidence discovered during the traffic stop, and that he should have told the jury they can consider lesser firearm-related offenses. 

Bader stopped a Chevrolet Suburban on Oct. 24, 2015, for speeding along Interstate 90 near Box Elder, according to Journal archives. The SUV was carrying Willingham and three others who were traveling from Seattle to Chicago with at least 40 pounds of marijuana, a handgun and $30,000 in cash, according to authorities.

Bader searched the vehicle, found the marijuana and was about to handcuff Willingham when Willingham punched him multiple times. Bader lost consciousness and suffered serious injuries, including multiple facial fractures that required several surgeries and a long hospital stay. Police arrested Willingham and his companions later that day in Wall.

During the trial, Pennington County State's Attorney Mark Vargo said Bader nearly died while Bader testified that the assault left him with some double vision in one eye, a misaligned bite and numbness on the left side of his face.

Willingham argued that the evidence discovered during the traffic stop should have been tossed because Bader unconstitutionally stopped his group longer than needed to write a warning ticket for the speeding so he could ask them about drugs.

The justices rejected this argument since Willingham failed to bring this issue up in the trial. Even if the arrest was illegal, they said, the S.D. Supreme Court and other courts have ruled that defendants can't resist arrests, even if they are unlawful.

Willingham also argued that the statements he made to law enforcement before his formal interview should be thrown out because they were involuntarily since he was under the influence of marijuana and a Vicodin pill. He said his formal interview should be suppressed because he wasn't adequately advised of his Miranda rights and because law enforcement didn't immediately stop questioning him after he said he was done talking.

But the justices said there's no evidence Willingham was impacted by the drugs and that he voluntarily spoke with officers before his formal interview, even when they suggested he not. They also said his Miranda warning was adequate. The justices cited a transcript that shows that detectives did briefly continue to speak with Willingham after he said he wanted to stop, but said Willingham's responses were not incriminating. They said officers waited enough time to ask Willingham if he wanted to be interviewed the next day.

The justices also said Judge Eklund had no legal reason to tell jurors that they could convict Willingham of lesser firearm offenses. 

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— Contact Arielle Zionts at arielle.zionts@rapidcityjournal.com

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