FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE : Wednesday, October 31, 2013
CONTACT: Sara Rabern (605) 773-3215
State to Request S.D. Supreme Court to Review Engesser Vehicular Homicide Case
PIERRE, S.D - Attorney General Marty Jackley announced that the State intends to appeal a court decision granting another trial for a man convicted of vehicular homicide in relation to the death of Dorothy Finley.
“It is the State’s position that the overall trial evidence supports the jury determination that Mr. Engesser was responsible for the death of Dorothy Finley, and therefore that jury verdict should be respected,” stated Attorney General Jackley. “I acknowledge that additional evidence has surfaced and in the interest of justice and for Dorothy Finley’s family, our state’s highest court should review whether these inconsistencies legally and factually support another jury trial.” “The State will not request to have Mr. Engesser incarcerated during the Supreme Court’s review absent further justification.”
In 2001, Oakley Engesser was charged with vehicular homicide and battery as a result of a crash near the Tilford weigh station on I90 that killed Dorothy Finley on July 30, 2000. According to trial testimony, Engesser left the Full Throttle Saloon in Sturgis, with Finley around 6:00 p.m. on July 30, 2000. They drove off in Finley’s red corvette, and around 8:10 p.m. their car collided with a minivan on I90. They had been traveling 112 miles per hour at the time, and their car rolled over one and a half times before coming to rest upside down in the median. Finley was killed in the accident, and two of the minivan’s occupants were injured. Engesser was found on the ground unconscious, and Finley’s body was pinned inside the car on the passenger side. According to one witness, Finley was lying face down against the roof of the car, in line with the passenger seat, with her feet pinned underneath the dash board. At the time of the crash Engesser’s blood alcohol level was approximately .125.
Prior to trial Engesser was informed of two witnesses who were on the side of the interstate when the crash occurred. Both witnesses were questioned by law enforcement and neither could identify the driver. These witnesses were never called to testify at trial because they could not identify that driver.
A Meade County jury convicted Engesser based on evidence that indicated he was the driver, which included, but was not limited to the following: (1) the driver seat adjustment setting, which fit Engesser; (2) the location of the victim’s purse under the passenger seat; (3) the location of the victim’s injuries consistent with the passenger side; (4) the accident reconstruction including Engesser’s injuries which were consistent with Engesser driving at the time of the crash; and (5) Finley’s body was found lying over the passenger seat of the car, with her feet pinned underneath the dash board.
The South Dakota Supreme Court affirmed Engesser’s jury conviction, and Engesser subsequently filed a total of four separate state and two additional federal habeas petitions claiming among other matters that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to call the previously disclosed witnesses. The South Dakota Supreme Court and Federal Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals have repeatedly rejected his claims.
The Circuit Court’s recent decision on the fourth state habeas petition granting Engesser a new trial was based on numerous witnesses who surfaced recently providing information inconsistent with some of the trial testimony and physical evidence.