Victoria Wicks

SDPB Freelance Reporter/Producer

Rapid City freelancer Victoria L. Wicks has been producing news for SDPB since August 2007. She has in the past been a newspaper reporter, and she spent about 14 years advocating for crime victims in Rapid City and Aberdeen. Vicky is also a creative writer; several of her short stories have been published, one of them in an anthology titled Fishing for Chickens: Short Stories about Rural Youth. In addition, Vicky is a visual artist, creating pottery, watercolors, oil and acrylic paintings, and photographs. She holds a Master of Arts degree in English from the University of South Dakota.

Death row inmate Rodney Berget has exhausted his direct appeals, and the Attorney General is seeking to set an execution date. Berget pleaded guilty to killing prison guard Ron Johnson in 2011 during an attempted escape from the South Dakota State Penitentiary.

Photo by Victoria Wicks

On the first Friday of every month in Rapid City, novice musicians with the itch to perform can find audiences and mentoring at open mic night at the Dahl Arts Center. The Emerging Artists program started in January 2012 has launched the early careers of some local musicians. Open mic coordinator Deb Lux tells SDPB’s Victoria Wicks that the first step is to just get over fears and do it.
Emerging Artist concerts are held at the Dahl every Friday evening from 5 to 7 p.m., with open mic on the first Friday of every month. Admission is free, and audiences are welcome.

Photo by Victoria Wicks

United States Senator Tim Johnson is leaving office in January, after serving in Congress as a Representative and then Senator since 1987. He has been traveling the state to meet with constituents and thank them for their years of support. On Sunday afternoon, Johnson and his wife Barbara were in Rapid City. He tells SDPB’s Victoria Wicks that he hopes his successor manages to avoid the animosity in the Capitol.

Photo by Victoria Wicks

At the Fifth Annual Americana Music Festival held this weekend at the Dahl Arts Center, it was all about the music. This year featured the blues, with an exhibit of classic and reproduction guitars and blues albums. Guitar collectors tell SDPB’s Victoria Wicks that vintage guitars set the bar for quality.

Photo by Victoria Wicks

On Friday morning, demonstrators gather at the Rapid City federal courthouse to express their support for marriage equality. At that same hour, same-sex marriage is at issue in a Sioux Falls federal courtroom, where Judge Karen Schreier is considering the fate of a lawsuit challenging South Dakota’s statutory and constitutional bans on gay marriage.
The demontrators stand on the corner of 9th Street and St. Joe, holding signs and cheering when drivers honk in support.

Photo by Mervin Hanson

The state’s agricultural industry has been frustrated by the shortage of rail cars available to haul out grain, ethanol, and other ag products, and to haul in materials needed for their operations. Last week the federal Surface Transportation Board ordered railroads to post weekly updates on availability of cars and other data. The Board’s action comes after hearings where South Dakota’s leaders in government and agriculture testified.

To learn more about the Surface Transportation Board order, go to this site:

Earlier this week the United States Supreme Court turned away appeals from states whose bans on same-sex marriage have been overturned by lower courts. The Supreme Court left standing three federal appeals court decisions that found states’ bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. Creighton Law Professor Michael Fenner tells SDPB’s Victoria Wicks that the issue seems to be working itself out politically, and the high court likely wants to let it continue to do so.

The South Dakota Supreme Court is meeting this week at the University of Sioux Falls. This morning justices heard oral arguments in three cases. Two of them involve criminal charges. In one, a lawyer makes the case that his arrest record should be expunged even though the prosecutor does not consent. In the other, a man serving 261 years argues that the sentence is excessive considering that he was a juvenile at the time of the crime.

For background on these two cases, click on the link to earlier coverage below.

The South Dakota Supreme Court is meeting at the University of Sioux Falls this week. This morning the court is hearing oral arguments in three cases, among them a challenge to a lengthy juvenile sentence and a request from an attorney to have his arrest record cleared.

First up on the calendar is the case of Brandon Taliaferro (pronounced “Toliver”). He's a lawyer who served as a Brown County deputy state’s attorney until his boss dismissed him and asked the Division of Criminal Investigation to look at possible witness tampering, suborning perjury, and other charges.

Photo by Victoria Wicks

Basic needs—food, shelter, and clothing—become even more expensive for low-income people as winter approaches. Western South Dakota Community Action Program, headquartered in Rapid City, assists with those needs in most counties and all reservations west of the Missouri River. The program helps people to winterize their homes, offers clothing at its thrift store, and supplies toiletries that food stamps don’t cover. For the past three years, Community Action has worked to get fresh produce onto the tables of the poor, and now they’re helping people preserve that produce for the winter.

A small Rapid City audience heard from a panel of scientists Monday night after watching a documentary on climate change activism. The film, Disruption, pushes for take-it-to-the-streets protest and drummed up advance interest in the global People’s Climate March that happened September 21st. But scientists tell SDPB’s Victoria Wicks that effective solutions have to be more concrete.

Photo by Victoria Wicks

South Dakota is celebrating 125 years of statehood. SDPB honors that milestone with stories that explore the state’s identity and heritage.
A hundred years ago, Custer State Park acquired its first bison from the Scotty Philip ranch near Fort Pierre. This started the reintroduction of bison into the park. Now about thirteen hundred animals are rounded up every year. As SDPB’s Victoria Wicks learns, there are people from two worlds at this event, the onlookers and the participants, and for the riders, this roundup is the real deal.

Photo by Victoria Wicks

On a recent Thursday evening, a few School of Mines and Technology students gather in a downtown Rapid City parking lot to demonstrate the relationship between art and science. As SDPB’s Victoria Wicks reports, if creative geniuses pay attention to aesthetics as well as facts and numbers, there’s an indivisible relationship between form and function.

Victoria Wicks

Volunteers gathered on Saturday to install playground equipment and landscaping in Willow Park in North Rapid. One playground installment is an interactive sculpture, titled “Will Be,” built in 2013 by former Rapid City resident and Los Angeles artist Bridget Beck. Beck enlisted help from Rapid City kids to create the sculpture, and after she displayed it at UCLA for a year, she brought it back home.

South Dakota voters will decided two initiated measures on November’s ballot. Initiated Measure 17 allows medical doctors, clinics, and specialty hospitals to become part of insurance networks that they currently can’t join. Initiated Measure 18 raises the minimum wage to $8.50 an hour. Those are the bare bones of the measures at issue. But there’s nothing uncomplicated about the variables or possible outcomes if these measures pass. SDPB’s Victoria Wicks takes a look at the economics and the more subjective aspects of these two initiated measures.

A prison inmate serving life who was a juvenile when she committed murder in 1998 received a lighter sentence YESTERDAY/TUESDAY in Codington County. Jessi Owens, formerly of Watertown and now residing in the state women’s prison in Pierre, has been re-sentenced to a term of 40 years.

Victoria Wicks

Women’s Equality Day is held annually on August 26th. That’s the anniversary of the 1920 certification of the 19th Amendment, recognizing women’s right to vote. Fifty years later, women staged demonstrations to demand equality in education and employment. At the beginning of the 21st Century, women in Rapid City’s Democracy in Action started observing Women’s Equality Day, as they did Tuesday night at Main Street Square.

Photo by Victoria Wicks

A proposed sculpture garden in Rapid City is moving forward. The First Nations Sculpture Garden, featuring busts of 20th Century Native intellectuals, is planned for Halley Park, a strip of land in the Gap between east and west Rapid.

Now that the state Supreme Court has determined South Dakota’s implied consent law to be unconstitutional, the criminal justice system and the state legislature have to regroup. The Attorney General says new processes could cost money, and the legislature might have to find ways to bolster public safety. But the attorney who prevailed in the case tells SDPB’s Victoria Wicks that protection of constitutional rights justifies the “new normal.”

Victoria Wicks

Gubernatorial candidate Mike Meyers conducted a live demonstration of a shotgun suicide in Rapid City Wednesday, complete with a fake gun. Meyers did this to prove that former Director of Economic Development Richard Benda could not have committed suicide and to suggest that he was instead murdered. Victoria Wicks has this report.

Late last week the U.S. Department of Justice filed in support of plaintiffs in federal court in Rapid City. Two tribes and Native parents charge that Pennington County and state officials hold brief, meaningless hearings 48 hours after children are removed from their homes. The plaintiffs claim that those hearings violate the Indian Child Welfare Act, or ICWA, as well as due process guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. United States Attorney Brendan Johnson tells SDPB’s Victoria Wicks that DOJ often weighs in on cases with federal importance.

Victoria Wicks

The U.S. Department of Justice has joined a federal lawsuit in Rapid City. The suit alleges that 7th Circuit Court judges, the Pennington County State’s Attorney, and the state Department of Social Services remove children for as long as 60 days without giving Indian tribes and parents a fair hearing. Tribes from Rosebud and Pine Ridge reservations, along with parents, say the defendants are violating the Indian Child Welfare Act, or ICWA.

Victoria Wicks

Hank Harris is a well-known South Dakota musician and a not-so-well-known photographer. This Friday, both talents are highlighted in concert at Rapid City’s Journey Museum. Harris will play music while his photos are projected onto a large screen. He tells SDPB’s Victoria Wicks that this is his first time combining his music with his photography.

Hank Harris's concert starts at 7 p.m. on Friday, August 15th, at the Journey Museum. Admission is $10 for adults.

Victoria Wicks

Matthew Tornquist was sentenced Tuesday in Hot Springs for killing his mother, Catherine Tornquist, in October 2011. Life and death are the only two sentences available for first-degree murder in this state. Tornquist did not face the death penalty, and so life in prison without parole was the judge’s only option. After the sentence was delivered, SDPB’s Victoria Wicks reviewed the case with prosecutors and an investigator.

Candidates don’t just rely on yard signs and TV ads to reach voters these days. They find a host of options for advertising. But judicial candidates follow a more stringent set of rules than those running for other offices. An advisory committee stands ready to answer questions for judicial candidates, as it did recently when it determined that people running for the bench can advertise in movie theaters.

Earlier this year, the United States Supreme Court ruled that law officers must obtain warrants before drawing blood in routine DUI arrests. Now the South Dakota Supreme Court is dealing with that ruling. In a recent opinion, the state’s high court says the decision in Missouri versus McNeely does not apply retroactively.

Victoria Wicks

The journey to modern medicine has followed a rough road. At one time, people who did not receive health care had a better prognosis than those who did. SDPB’s Victoria Wicks looks at an exhibit at Rapid City’s Journey Museum that features some of the tools and practitioners involved with medicine in the Black Hills.
 The History of Medicine is exhibited at the Journey Museum in Rapid City through July 27th.

In opening statements at the beginning of the week, one of Matthew Tornquist’s attorneys said the defendant has no obligation to prove himself not guilty, and the defense can be accomplished with effective cross-examination of the state’s witnesses. That cross-examination strategy came into play Thursday, when DCI Special Supervisory Investigator Pat West answered defense questions about flaws in the investigation. Tornquist is standing trial in Rapid City for the murder of his mother, who disappeared almost three years ago. SDPB’s Victoria Wicks has this report.

The exacting and sometimes tedious process of introducing exhibits took up much of Wednesday in the Matthew Tornquist murder trial in Rapid City. The 28-year-old defendant is accused of killing his mother, Catherine Tornquist, in her Hot Springs home almost three years ago. Her body has never been recovered, and so prosecutors rely on other physical evidence and witnesses to make their case. SDPB’s Victoria Wicks is covering this trial.

Testimony in the trial of a Hot Springs man accused of killing his mother started Tuesday in a Rapid City courtroom, after prosecution and defense lawyers made opening statements. Twenty-eight-year-old Matthew Charles Tornquist is charged with grand theft and first degree murder, or in the alternative, second degree murder. If convicted of one of the murder charges, he’ll spend life in prison without parole. SDPB’s Victoria Wicks is covering this case.