Meshell Will finally receives justice

A saga that dragged on for much longer than most people would have liked—the law enforcement who worked so hard to bring it to a close included—ended last Friday morning at a courthouse in Rapid City when Richard Schmitz was sentenced to prison for the murder of Meshell Will. For the purposes of accuracy it is important to point out Schmitz did not plead guilty, and did not plead to murder, but rather, entered an Alford Plea on a second degree manslaughter charge.
An Alford Plea is a type of guilty plea in which the defendant does not admit to committing the crime but agrees that the prosecution has enough evidence to obtain a conviction. This type of plea allows the defendant to plead guilty but maintain their innocence in the eyes of the law. Second degree manslaughter is a Class 4 Felony, punishable by a maximum of 10 years in prison and/or a $20,000 fine.
Semantics aside, Schmitz admitted to killing Will, or at least playing a role in her death. If he were completely innocent, he wouldn’t have entered into the plea deal. Many people have been screaming from the mountaintops since Will was found dead that Schmitz, the last person she was seen with, was responsible. What people believe and what can be proved are two different things, however, and law enforcement had to be able to prove that Schmitz killed Will. We will never know how strong the evidence was completely, and cases are never a slam dunk, particularly ones that have taken 11 years to come to a conclusion. We are sure Pennington County was happy to have Schmitz admit some culpability, even if in a roundabout way, so that the case did not have to go to trial.
We commend all of those who worked so hard in bringing this case to a close. From the friends and family of Meshell Will, who never gave up hope, who hounded law enforcement, who held vigils in her honor, who made sure she wasn’t forgotten, to the law enforcement who worked the case for over a decade to bring Will the justice she deserved. She was killed and thrown to the side of the road—something nobody deserves. The person who did it deserves to be punished, and finally will receive that punishment.
It’s amazing that after all these years the case was finally closed out. It’s common knowledge that the longer a case drags on, the less and less likely it becomes that the case will ever be solved. In fact, nearly 340,000 cases of homicide and non-negligent manslaughter went unsolved from 1965 to 2022, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report data studied by The Murder Accountability Project. For that same time frame in South Dakota, of the 878 such cases, 244 went unsolved, meaning the state has a 72 percent clearance rate, which is well above the national average, which is just a tick above 51 percent, according to the same source.
Schmitz had 10 years of freedom he didn’t deserve, and while many were clamoring for him to get life and feel he isn’t being punished harshly enough, at least he is being punished. That’s better than far too many murders both in the state and nationally.
Rest in pace, Meshell. Your killer is now exactly where he deserves to be—behind bars.

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