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Missing evidence found in sheriff's locker could free inmate in 1990 SD murder case

Capital Journal,
BYLINE: Associated Press

McCook County, SD

SIOUX FALLS — McCook County Sheriff Mark Norris says an envelope found in an evidence locker is related to the case of a South Dakota inmate trying to prove his innocence in a 1990 murder.

The Argus Leader reports that 10 years ago the Innocence Project of Minnesota began researching Stacy Larson's second-degree murder case and concluded he could not have fired the shot that killed Ronald Hilgenberg in 1990.

Larson has spent the past 25 years serving life in prison.

The Project's effort to exonerate Larson came to halt after it concluded the evidence was lost or destroyed.

But recently, Norris says he was cleaning an evidence locker when he found the packet. He says he was "dumbfounded" by the discovery.

Larson's lawyer, Jason Rumpca, and McCook County's state's attorney have been notified of the evidence.

The envelope contains swabs taken from Larson's car after his arrest, said Julie Jonas, legal director for the Innocence Project of Minnesota. The swabs could reveal if gun powder was in the car; if a test shows no gun powder, it would cast doubt on the prosecutors' argument that Larson fired a shotgun at Hilgenberg on Interstate 90 near Montrose in 1990.

"It's not going to prove who did it, but it would prove that it wasn't me," Larson told the Argus Leader in a phone interview Monday.

Of course, even a negative test wouldn't prove Larson was innocent, but it could raise doubt about his guilt that wasn't available at his trial.

Sheriff Norris said the recently found envelope contains materials returned to the his department in 2012 by the state Division of Criminal Investigation. Norris said it had not been tested by either prosecutors or the defense during Larson's trial.

State Attorney General Marty Jackley said he would comment later Monday on the news.

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