It was a guilty plea the judge initially could not accept.
Rapid City resident Michael Frye, 25, pleaded guilty Thursday to helping rebury 22-year-old Jessica Rehfeld after she had been stabbed to death last year. Frye was charged with being an accessory to the murder.
Rehfeld’s ex-boyfriend, Jonathon Klinetobe, 27, is alleged to have masterminded the crime. He is charged with two other men in Rehfeld’s kidnapping and murder. The woman’s body was found in the woods south of Rockerville in May after authorities say a witness came forward and led them to her grave.
When 7th Circuit Court Judge Robert Mandel asked Frye on Thursday why he helped rebury the body, Frye said it was because Klinetobe had threatened his life.
“Counsel, I have to tell you, I’m having problems with the facts given in the plea,” Mandel told Frye’s lawyer, Jamy Patterson. The judge gave the defendant and his attorney a chance to talk in private.
By claiming to act under duress, a person can try to avoid taking full responsibility for his offense under the law.
Ten minutes later, Frye told Mandel he knew Klinetobe’s threat had not been serious. Frye said he had other courses of action available, including calling law enforcement, but did nothing. Listening in the audience were Rehfeld’s relatives and two of Klinetobe’s defense lawyers.
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At that point, the judge accepted Frye’s guilty plea, which was part of a deal with Pennington County prosecutors.
A lot of consideration went into the plea offer, said Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Lara Roetzel. The offer, made Dec. 15, is in a court document that Mandel sealed at Patterson's request.
Frye’s next court appearance is not until June 19, but his sentencing has not been scheduled. He faces up to five years in prison.
After the hearing, Klinetobe’s lawyer Elizabeth Regalado was asked whether Frye would be testifying against Klinetobe. Regalado said she did not know.
Frye will be released from the county jail under a personal recognizance bond, on the condition that he shows up for later court hearings and does not violate any laws.
The conditions of his release include keeping in regular contact with his lawyer, not drinking alcohol and not leaving the jurisdiction of the 7th Circuit Court, which are Custer, Fall River, Oglala Lakota and Pennington counties.
Another co-defendant, Garland Brown, pleaded guilty to the same accessory charge and was sentenced in August to four years in prison.