When 55-year-old Joe Boever died near Highmore on September 12th last year, his death made headlines across the country. The attention came not because of who he was, but how he died: he was struck and killed by a car driven by the Attorney General for the State of South Dakota.
Now, almost a year later, Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg has been sentenced for two class 2 misdemeanors, using a cell phone while driving and driving outside his lane.
Just before his two-day trial was to begin, he entered into a plea agreement with the state that dropped another of the minor charges, careless driving, and allowed him to avoid admitting guilt by pleading no contest.
Ravnsborg did not attend his own sentencing; his lawyer appeared for him.
The change of plea and sentencing hearing was held on August 26, at the Stanley County Courthouse, on the same day and time that Ravnsborg’s trial was set to begin.
Joe Boever’s widow and his sister made statements in the courtroom, though Jason Ravnsborg wasn’t there to hear them. After the hearing, two of Joe’s cousins spoke with reporters.
“I’m a farmer, and you have to do certain things in certain seasons of the year. You have to plant when you have to plant. You have to harvest when you have to harvest. There’s a time for sowing and there’s a time for reaping. And so I’ve had to go on with my regular life at the same time as I’ve been fielding questions and issues dealing with the events of September last year.”
Nick Nemec has been a spokesman for his cousin since shortly after the collision that took Joe Boever’s life and shook his entire family to its core.
“It’s been difficult. It hasn’t been impossible, but it’s been difficult. It’s been much, much more difficult, exponentially more difficult, for Jenny Boever, the widow, and Dorothy Boever, the mother.”
“I lost the love of my life, my best friend, and my chance for happiness.”
Jenny Boever reads a statement in the courtroom, outlining the characteristics that distinguished her husband, Joe.
“He was a husband, a son, a brother, a stepfather, a grandfather. Joseph was a highly intelligent man teaching me many things in life. Joseph was a very private and quiet man, but he was a very caring man which led him into nursing to help people. His patients and many people cared and loved him.”
She reads her statement in a flat voice that stands as a testament to the depression and sorrow she has suffered since her husband’s death.
“I’ve had to start medications to control feelings of rage, anger, and hopelessness and to help me sleep and stop having nightmares. I dread waking up every morning and going to sleep every night because I know I must face this nightmare every day for the rest of my life.”
Jenny says the family has endured intense media attention. And largely because the case has been so high profile, she feels isolated because people don’t know how to talk to her about her loss.
She doesn’t waver when she pinpoints the blame.
“We were building our lives together, and now we will never have that again. Since I must live with this every day for the rest of my life, I hope Jason does too.”
Jenny then addresses retired Sixth Circuit Judge John Brown directly. Judge Brown made a statement at the beginning of the hearing that he had decided, even before the trial was to start, that he would not sentence Ravnsborg to serve jail time.(:25) “What he did is, he broke his own law. His law states do not use your phone, and what did he do. He was using his phone, and he ended up killing my husband that night, and it has taken an emotional toll beyond anything I’ve ever seen. So I’m against the fact that he will not get jail time at all.”
Judge: “I understand that, ma’am. Thank you.”
Jenny: “Thank you.”
“We have waited 349 long days for this case to come to an end, and this is not the end we hoped for or expected.”
Jane Boever is Joe’s sister. She addresses the court on behalf of her mother and Joe’s six siblings, all survivors, all victims of a quick and shocking loss.
She says Jason Ravnsborg used his position to delay the case, which has widened and deepened the family’s wounds.
“We feel that at no point has the defendant shown any remorse and instead has demonstrated callousness with respect to the life he took and the victim’s family and friends. He has demonstrated arrogance towards the law he as an attorney general is supposed to uphold.”
Jane says the family had hoped that Ravnsborg would finally have to face them at his trial, but the day before it was to start, he made a deal with the prosecutor that canceled the trial and then didn’t show up for his own sentencing.
“Why, after having to wait nearly a year, do we have not have the chance to face him? We were told that he claimed threats were made against him, but all this time, he’s carried on his duties as AG. Traveled to a conference in Hawaii, testified in Washington, D.C., and given speeches across the state. Yet he was allowed not to appear today. His cowardly behavior leaves us frustrated and makes moving on even more difficult.”
“Joe was not just a cousin of mine. He was a good friend.”
Victor Nemec is Nick Nemec’s brother. He also has spoken for the family over the past year. He recognizes the futility of seeking true justice for an act that cannot be undone.
“If there would have been a real trial today, no matter what the outcome, even if it was the best verdict I could have hoped for, it still doesn’t bring my cousin back. He’s still gone and will remain to be gone.”
Like others in the family, Victor Nemec believes the Attorney General knew that he had not struck a deer as he reported to the county sheriff immediately after the collision.
“At times in our lives, we’re thrust into a situation where we prove what kind of person we are, and Jason Ravnsborg proved what kind of person he was that night when his first actions and thoughts were to try to get his feet out of the fire instead of just admitting to what he had done.”
Victor Nemec made his comments in the Stanley County Courthouse immediately after Ravnsborg’s sentencing in absentia.
“And even to this day he’s still proving what kind of person he is by not even bothering to show up today. And the reason he was not showing up today is because it would have been kind of uncomfortable for him. He chose to avoid an uncomfortable situation instead of manning up.”
The criminal case against Jason Ravnsborg has now been resolved.
But Nick Nemec says that doesn’t mean the family can just close the gate on this tragedy.
“It’s a step on the path. I will personally get more closure if Ravnsborg is impeached, and barring impeachment, if he’s not re-nominated, or if he’s re-nominated if he loses an election.”
And like his brother Victor, Nick Nemec recognizes that no matter what happens to Ravnsborg, his cousin is not coming back.
“Joe’s dead forever. I’m not sure what closure even means. But if Jason Ravnsborg can eventually just fade into obscurity and in 10 years people don’t even remember his name, that would… that would be good for me.”