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Remembering My First Prison Interview


There are just some things as a reporter you never forget. I will always remember the day of the Mickelson plane crash, the Spencer tornado, talking with survivors of the Rapid City flood, and my first prison interview. It was March or April of 2000 and I was doing a series of stories about juvenile corrections. This was on the heels of the death of Gina Score at a boot camp in Plankinton. I was looking into how we treat juvenile offenders in South Dakota.

Paul Dean Jensen was convicted of first-degree murder at the age of 14. He was one of the first teenagers sentenced as an adult and to a mandatory life sentence without parole. Court documents indicated as a teenager, Paul Dean Jensen showed no remorse for killing Michael Hare, a Pierre cab driver, over just a couple of bucks.

I remember going into the penitentiary and being searched and escorted to small metal room. Paul comes in wearing shackles. He's handcuffed to a metal table. His voice echoed in the sterile room. He tells me he’s not violent. He tells me he has matured. And he admits he was a stupid kid who made a mistake. He tells me he's learning a lot in prison about crime, and he's doing what he can to stay out of trouble and not get raped. Then, and this is the thing that sticks with me the most, he tells me he wants to get married some day and have kids.

Credit Photo from the "Free Paul Dean Jensen" Facebook page
Paul Dean Jensen

A lot of time has passed since I first met Paul Dean Jensen. He’s now a 34-year-old man. There are people who believe he has served enough time. There are people who believe that sentencing juveniles to life is giving up on kids. And there are people who believe in the memory of Michael Hare and Paul Dean Jensen needs to stay in prison.

The U.S. Supreme Court says states can’t mandate a mandatory life sentence for juveniles. A Stanley County judge will have the final say as to what the punishment should be. I am curious to see the 34-year-old Paul. I’m curious to see how 20 years in prison can age a person, and what kinds of life lessons are learned. How do you really mature behind bars? It’s been sixteen years and I’m sure sitting in that courtroom is going to be another event as a journalist I will never forget.

SDPB has permission to record audio and photographs from inside the courtroom and will provide continuing coverage.

Cara Hetland is the Director of Radio and Journalism Content for South Dakota Public Broadcasting.
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