Attorney General Headshot

Attorney General Jason R. Ravnsborg

Attorney General Seal

South Dakota Supreme Court Upholds Bertram Murder Conviction and Life Sentence

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  Thursday, January 11, 2018

CONTACT:  Sara Rabern (605) 773-3215

PIERRE, S.D. -  Attorney General Marty Jackley announced today that the South Dakota Supreme Court has affirmed the first degree murder conviction and life sentence without parole of Russell Ray Bertram, a former law enforcement officer, for the shooting death of his fiancée Leonila Stickney.

“The South Dakota Supreme Court has unanimously upheld the jury’s guilty verdict in this 2009 death case that could have likely gone unsolved but for the hard work of investigators and prosecutors,” said Jackley. “Bertram’s callous disregard for his fiancée Leonila was evident and he is being held responsible for her tragic death.”

The South Dakota Supreme Court rejected all of Bertram’s claims.  The evidence revealed that even though Bertram was in bankruptcy and had debt exceeding $100,000 he purchased two life insurance policies on Leonila’s life totaling over $920,000 with himself as the sole beneficiary. The jury also heard about his sexual encounters with other women immediately prior to Leonila’s death. The State argued all this evidence was relevant to Bertram’s motive for killing his fiancée and the Court agreed. 

Bertram was convicted by a Gregory County jury in September 2016 and was sentenced to life without parole for first degree murder.