Man Avoids Murder Charge by Accepting Plea Deal

Man Avoids Murder Charge by Accepting Plea Deal

( – A South Dakota man facing a murder charge in the 2013 death of his former girlfriend has reached a plea deal that could significantly reduce his potential sentence. Richard Schmitz submitted an Alford plea to the courts accepting charges of second-degree manslaughter on January 30.

An Alford plea allows the defendant to acknowledge that the prosecution has enough evidence to gain a conviction without admitting guilt. The defendant maintains their innocence while recognizing that the evidence against them is compelling enough for a court or jury to find them guilty.

Prosecutors agreed to drop a more serious charge of second-degree murder in exchange for Schmitz’s cooperation. He now faces a potential maximum sentence of up to 10 years in prison rather than a mandatory life sentence.

The plea deal in this high-profile case ends a tragic saga that began when a family member reported the victim, 38-year-old Meshell Will of Custer, missing. Authorities eventually located the woman deceased just off of Iron Mountain Road in the Black Hills. They immediately launched an investigation into how she ended up there.

Police dialed in on Schmitz as a person of interest in the case almost immediately, but the man insisted that he was innocent and had nothing to do with Will’s death. Local authorities continued to collect evidence in the case for eight years until finally arresting the man and charging him with her death in 2021.

The fact that the medical examiner was unable to identify a cause of death for Will complicated efforts to identify a suspect and bring charges. However, a 2021 pathology report ruled out natural causes, suicide, and accidental death, ruling instead that she had likely been murdered.

Investigators already knew that Schmitz was the last person to see Will alive before the incident. The updated evidence helped to strengthen their case against him.

Notably, this case is not the first time for Schmitz to have a run-in with the law over alleged domestic violence. At least three other women whom he had encounters with in the past have accused him of inappropriate behavior, including physical assault and sexual harassment. Prosecutors intended to include their testimony.

Schmitz is expected to receive his sentence on March 8, 2024. However, South Dakota Circuit Court Judge Craig Pfeifle has requested more data before he hands down a ruling, including a domestic violence report.

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