1986 Murder Conviction Upheld
PIERRE, S.D – Attorney General Marty Jackley announced today that First Circuit Court Judge Bruce Anderson has upheld Lewis Ashker’s first degree murder conviction.
In 1986, Ashker was convicted by a jury of first degree murder of Jerry Plihal, who died of multiple stab wounds. Both Ashker’s conviction and sentence were affirmed by the South Dakota Supreme Court in 1987. Ashker secured federal habeas relief in 1992, but that was later reversed by the Eighth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals.
Ashker’s then filed a request for a new trial under SDCL Ch. 23-5B, a law passed in 2009 that allows convicted felons to have DNA testing done in their case if a number of conditions are met. Ashker sought, and received, mitochondrial DNA testing on certain hairs that were found in the victim’s right hand and neck wound. The Arizona Department of Public Safety Criminal Laboratory completed the testing. The lab determined that two of the hairs tested had a high probability they belong to the victim. The results from the other hairs showed that either the victim could not be ruled out as a source for these hairs or that further results were inconclusive. Accordingly, no results exonerated Ashker from the jury conviction. This led Judge Anderson to conclude that there was an insufficient basis under the statute to grant Ashker a new trial. Ashker remains incarcerated in the South Dakota State penitentiary.