SD Supreme Court unanimously upholds conviction for attempted murder and aggravated assault of State Trooper
PIERRE, SD — The South Dakota Supreme Court has unanimously upheld the conviction of Donald Willingham, who in 2015 nearly killed a South Dakota Highway Patrol trooper during a traffic stop near Box Elder.
Willingham was sentenced to 45 years in prison after a Pennington County Jury convicted him in 2017 of attempted murder and aggravated assault against Trooper Zachary Bader, as well as drug and firearm offenses.
Willingham’s council argued that the circuit court erred by denying his motions to suppress and abused its discretion by denying his proposed jury instructions on lesser-included offenses.
According to court documents, Trooper Bader had observed a Chevy Suburban traveling 75 miles per hour in a 65 mile-per-hour zone and pulled the vehicle over on the morning of October 24, 2015. The SUV was carrying Willingham and three others who were traveling with at least 40 pounds of marijuana, a handgun and $30,000 in cash.
During the inspection of the vehicle, Willingham, a six-foot tall, 270-pound former semi-pro football player, advanced on Trooper Bader and punched him in the face, knocking him to the ground. While delivering forceful blows to Trooper Bader’s face, Willingham began yelling “go, go, go!” to the others, who together fled the crime scene. Bader lost consciousness and suffered serious injuries, including multiple facial fractures that required several surgeries and a long hospital stay.
All four individuals were later captured in Wall.
Each of Willingham’s three co-defendants pled guilty to possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute and accessory to a crime after the fact.
During the three-day jury trial held in December 2017, twenty-two witnesses testified, including a co-defendant who testified against Willingham as a condition of his plea agreement. Trooper Bader, who was still recovering from his injuries, also took the stand.
At the close of the evidence, Willingham requested the court give the jury two lesser-included offense instructions for the greater offense of commission of a felony with a firearm—one for carrying a pistol or revolver without a permit and the other for concealment of a weapon with intent to commit a felony.
The court did not give either instruction.