A Rapid City man charged in what authorities describe as a murder-for-hire plot pleaded guilty Wednesday to killing 22-year-old Jessica Rehfeld.
David Schneider, 24, had been charged in 7th Circuit Court with kidnapping and murder. But in a plea deal, he pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, and in exchange prosecutors will not seek the death penalty.
The only other possible punishment is life in prison without parole.
Judge Heidi Linngren told Schneider on Wednesday that she could have sentenced him immediately but had to wait under the terms of his plea deal.
The Pennington County State’s Attorney’s Office wants to reserve the right to still seek the death penalty if Schneider does not comply with the agreement.
If that happens, State’s Attorney Mark Vargo said he intends to present to a jury three aggravating factors in Schneider’s crime: that he committed the murder as “an agent or employee” of another person, that it was done for the benefit of receiving money or something of monetary value and that the murder was “vile,” involving torture.
Instead of asking Schneider to tell the facts regarding his offense, which usually follows a guilty plea, Linngren asked him to swear that the 13-page statement he submitted was correct.
Schneider's plea agreement and factual basis statements will be sealed from public view, said Linngren, since they pertain to an ongoing investigation.
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There was no mention in court of Schneider’s two co-defendants, though the men's lawyers attended the hearing.
Jonathon Klinetobe, Rehfeld’s ex-boyfriend, has been accused by authorities of masterminding her murder and hiring Schneider and another Rapid City man, Richard Hirth, to carry out his plan.
Rehfeld, of Rapid City, was considered a missing person for a year until police say a witness came forward in May and led them to her grave south of Rockerville.
Before taking Schneider’s plea change, Linngren asked him at least four times if he understood that pleading guilty would waive such constitutional rights as the right to a jury trial and to remain silent.
Schneider, flanked by his two lawyers, answered “yes, ma’am” in clear and even tones. He looked thinner than when he first appeared in court in June.
His other charges were conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, first-degree aggravated kidnapping and first-degree conspiracy to commit aggravated kidnapping. These charges will be dismissed if he complies with the plea deal, Vargo said.
Schneider, detained at the county jail, is scheduled to return to court July 18. His sentencing date has not been set.