Hirth murder trial cancelled due to witness being ‘compromised’

The murder trial of Richard Hirth was cancelled due to an issue with a defense expert witness.
The murder trial of Richard Hirth was cancelled due to an issue with a defense expert witness.(KEVN)
Published: Sep. 21, 2023 at 9:32 PM MDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN) - The Rapid City murder trial of Richard Hirth, accused of killing Jessica Rehfeld in 2015, was cancelled Thursday because an integral defense expert witness is no longer credible, and that compromised Hirth’s right to a fair trial.

That was a ruling by Seventh Circuit Court Judge Heidi Linngren, according to a release from the Pennington County State’s Attorney’s Office.

The witness, Dr. William Stratford, a Missoula, Mont., psychiatrist, specializes in evaluating and treating mental health disorders. Hirth pleaded not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity.

Stratford entered into a civil settlement agreement with the federal government in August after the Drug Enforcement Agency alleged he violated the Controlled Substances Act.

Hirth’s attorneys asked the judge to bar the prosecutor from asking Stratford about that settlement. When the judge denied the motion, it prompted Stratford, according to the Pennington County State’s Attorney’s Office, to refuse to testify.

“The cancellation of the trial has not only left the prosecution deeply upset but also left the victim’s family with a sense of injustice. We understand their frustration and devastation, and we remain committed to seeking justice on their behalf,” State’s Attorney Lara Roetzel stated in a release.

Jury selection was already under way for four days when the trial was cancelled.

Hirth and David Schneider were reportedly hired by Jonathan Klinetobe to kill the 22-year-old Rehfeld, Klinetobe’s ex-girlfriend. She was stabbed to death and buried near Rockerville.

Several weeks later, Klinetobe enlisted the help of Michael Frye and Garland Brown to dig up Rehfeld’s body and rebury her in another location.

  • Klinetobe was sentenced to life in prison without parole in 2019, following his plea of guilty to aiding and abetting first-degree manslaughter.
  • David Schneider of Rapid City pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in 2017 and was given a 75-year prison sentence.
  • Michael Frye and Garland Brown pleaded guilty to being accessories to Rehfeld’s murder. Brown was handed a four-year prison sentence while Frye was sentenced to five years with suspended execution, putting him on probation.
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