Simianer sentenced to 25 years

By Jason Ferguson

Scott Simianer

Former City of Custer planning director Scott Simianer will spend at least the next 10 years in prison after being sentenced for admitting to sexual contact with a child as well as taking pornographic photos of her.

Simianer, 55, was sentenced for his crimes last Thursday, Sept. 28, at the Pennington County Courthouse by Seventh Circuit Court Judge Craig Pfeifle.

In July, Simianer pleaded guilty to one count of sexual contact with a child younger than 16 and four counts of manufacturing child pornography. Simianer entered an Alford plea on the sexual contact charge, a new charge brought forth as part of the plea deal. An Alford plea allows the defendant to not admit committing the offense while also recognizing the prosecution could prove the charge at trial and plead guilty.

In asking for Pfeifle to sentence Simianer to 55 years in prison, the maximum he faced under the plea agreement, Custer County State’s Attorney Tracy Kelley said the victim was 12 years old at the time and that a plea deal was arranged so the victim would not have to testify, which could potentially further traumatize her.

“One positive for the defendant is he accepted a plea,” she said.

Kelley said, although Simianer has no criminal history, he was at one time involved in a murder-for-hire scheme in which he took money to arrange for the murder of another man. Simianer never arranged for the murder, but went to authorities with the scheme when “his back was against the wall,” Kelley said.

Kelley said the fact Simianer got mixed up in the scheme at all speaks to his character and pointed out that although his psycho-sexual evaluation shows he is at a low risk to reoffend, it also says he should not be around children under 18 without supervision.

“That’s very telling to me,” she said.

Kelley said the victim went from feeling happy and safe to feeling used and ashamed, feeling she had to protect her family from that shame. Simianer preyed on her weaknesses and took advantage of her vulnerability, she said.

Kelley said Simianer continues to place blame on the victim, while denying everything but the photos is a fabrication concocted by the victim at the behest of her mother.

“The pictures tell the story. I would ask the court to know what story the photos tell,” Kelley said.

Kelley said a maximum sentence would allow the victim to be healthy enough mentally and mature enough to allow her to deal with the possibility of seeing Simianer again in the future.

“I think he deserves that sentence and I think the victim deserves that sentence,” she said.

The victim’s mother, who wept off and on as she testified, told of the problems the victim dealt with prior to Simianer’s crimes, saying being the victim of the crimes has only exacerbated her problems.

The girl has been in and out of treatment facilities for a variety of behavior issues, her mother said, and has a history that includes depression, self-harm and anti-social behavior. The girl has lost a lot in her life, the mother said, and has expressed feelings of hopelessness for her future.

The victim’s mother said she would like to see Simianer given a sentence that would provide time for the victim, now 14, to process the trauma she endured. He took a girl who had “so many problems and just added to them monumentally,” she said.

Simianer’s attorney, Randy Connelly, argued against the idea that the incidents dramatically changed the victim’s behavior for the worse.

“That’s just not the case,” Connelly said.

Connelly said the victim was on a troubled road and had psychological issues long before the incident, and that the dismissed rape allegations were “responses to pressure and suggestions” of the victim’s mother.

Connelly said the photos were part of a one-time incident the morning after Thanksgiving 2015 and that the rapes, which Simianer vehemently denied at sentencing, could not have happened because other family members were present at the time they allegedly occurred. Connelly said the rape allegations also “expanded overnight” from two to five.

It could be proved they did not occur, Connelly said.

“Here we are asking for essentially a life sentence for a man,” he said. “If it could be longer than life, (the victim’s mother) would want that.”

Simianer wanted to take responsibility for the photos, Connelly said, but also wanted to dispel the notion he had sexual contact with the victim. Simianer agreed to a plea deal to spare the victim from testifying, Connelly said, and has written in letters it is not the victim’s fault.

Connelly said all psychosexual evaluations say the offender should not be unsupervised around children under 18, arguing the point Kelley made earlier. He said the court should focus on the evaluation saying Simianer is a low-to-zero risk to reoffend while asking the court not to sentence Simianer for the other crimes he did not do.

Connelly said he was concerned the other allegations are so inextricably intertwined in the case that Simianer would be sentenced on them, despite those charges being dropped.

“It’s taken on proportions that have clearly left the realm of reality,” he said. “[Taking the photos] was an egregious act. It was wrong. He should be punished. But he has lost a lot.”

Connelly said those who know Simianer were “shocked” to hear of the charges against him, and added Simianer suffers from PTSD from past trauma.

When Simianer spoke, he addressed the murder-for-hire plot, saying he got mixed up in it through his former landlord, who “was kind of a nut” and “ran off at the mouth a lot.”

When it got to the point he thought someone might actually get hurt, Simianer said he went to the police.

Simianer admitted he did take money from the man, saying if the man “wanted to throw his money away, (he could) throw it my way.”

Simianer said he “was not himself” the morning he took the photos and doesn’t know why it happened. He didn’t want to offer an excuse, he said, but said he was emotionally compromised by two suicide attempts by his son, as well as by the death of another of his children.

“I simply wasn’t in my right mind,” he said, fighting back tears.

Simianer reiterated that the other allegations are false and asked the court to not let one mistake define the rest of his life. He asked for leniency and another chance to have a life, as his voice broke.

Pfeifle said he viewed the photos as requested by the prosecution and didn’t buy earlier statements that Simianer took the photos because of the victim’s curiosity about his body. Pfeifle said the photos were clearly intentionally taken with specific poses and, even if the girl had been curious, as the adult in the room, it was Simianer’s responsibility to put a stop to what was happening.

Pfeifle said Simianer purposefully preyed upon someone who already had underlying problems.

Pfeifle then sentenced Simianer to 15 years in the South Dakota State Penitentiary for the sexual contact charge, the maximum allowed for the Class III felony. Simianer also received the maximum sentence of 10 years on each of the four manufacturing of child pornography charges, to be served concurrently, but consecutively to the sexual contact charge, meaning 25 total years in prison.

Simianer will be eligible for parole when he serves roughly half his sentence and he will be given credit for the nearly two years he has served at the Pennington County Jail since his December 2015 arrest.

Under the plea agreement, the state dismissed Simianer’s remaining charges, including three counts of first degree rape and other child pornography offenses. Simianer faced up to life in prison if convicted of the rape charge.