RAPID CITY, S.D. — A Washington state man accused of trying to kill a South Dakota state trooper following a traffic stop has been convicted of attempted murder.
A jury in Pennington County found Donald Willingham guilty on Thursday, the Rapid City Journal reported . The 35-year-old Renton man was convicted on all his charges, which include attempted first-degree murder, aggravated assault and drug possession.
The verdict comes two years after Trooper Zachary Bader stopped Willingham and his three friends along Interstate 90 near Box Elder for speeding. Willingham and his friends were driving from Seattle to Chicago with 40 pounds of marijuana (18 kilograms) and $30,000 in cash in the car.
Prosecutor Mark Vargo told the jury that Bader searched the vehicle after smelling marijuana, which he later found in the cargo area. Bader attempted to handcuff Willingham, who punched Bader to the ground and continued swinging.
“If you want him down, he is down. If you want to get away, you can get away,” said Vargo in his closing argument. “It is only if you want him to die that you need to continue the beating at this point.”
In a recorded police interview played for the jury, Willingham said he didn’t intend to hurt the trooper but was afraid of losing the cash and going to jail for transporting the drugs.
“Nothing was premeditated,” said defense attorney Dennis Doherty. “This was a spontaneous act of fury, a lack of impulse control.”
The three other defendants, Jonathan Melendez, Desiree Sukert and Chase Sukert, all pleaded guilty last year to possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and being an accessory to a crime. Melendez was sentenced Thursday to one and a half years in prison. Desiree Sukert was sentenced to five years in prison and her brother was given 11 years.