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Yankton man gets six months in jail, probation in motor vehicle homicide

December 12, 2018

HARTINGTON — Educated, no criminal history and from a good family.

These terms were repeatedly used to describe Derrik Nelson during his motor vehicle homicide sentencing in Cedar County District Court here Monday morning.

Nelson, 27, of Yankton had previously pleaded no contest to the charge, as well as to false reporting, in a four-wheeling accident that took the life of a young Yankton woman in 2017.

Before a plea agreement, Nelson had faced seven charges with a maximum sentence of 20 years to life if he had been found guilty of driving under the influence during the crash that killed Jessi Anderson, 21.

The DUI was one of five charges against Nelson that was dismissed by Cedar County Attorney Edward Matney in September in exchange for Nelson’s pleas of no contest.

Matney also agreed to recommend “a substantial term of probation” with a possible term of incarceration at sentencing.

On his remaining charges, Nelson faced a possible total of four years of incarceration.

He ended up being sentenced to six months in jail with a probation term of five years.

In court Monday, Matney called Lance Anderson — the victim’s father — to the witness stand, where he read from a prepared statement.

“(Jessi) died thinking the guy she was with that night was a good guy. A guy she could trust. ... (Nelson) wasn’t the guy any of us thought he was,” Anderson said.

He went on to describe the details of the early-morning hours on June 29, when his daughter was killed after the all-terrain vehicle Nelson was driving failed to maneuver a T-intersection on a Cedar County road.

According to court records, Jessi Anderson was thrown from the ATV and died at the scene, and Nelson returned home after the accident.

Nelson then told the Andersons, and later law enforcement, that Jessi had left earlier in the night with some men from Nebraska to go four-wheeling.

An investigation by the Cedar County Sheriff’s Office proved this story to be false, and CCTV footage as well as social media placed Jessi with Nelson until her death.

Anderson emotionally described the graphic impact and injuries to his daughter, as well as the frantic hours his family endured between when she died and when her body was found.

He said holidays and birthdays have been extremely difficult, and the still-grieving family has suffered many sleepless nights and anxiety attacks.

Anderson said the family had received no apologies from Nelson and that Nelson continued to deny remembering anything about the night in question, saying he was drunk and blacked out.

Anderson asked that Nelson be sentenced to the maximum amount of incarceration allowable.

Nelson’s attorney, Doug Stratton, had no questions for Anderson.

MATNEY SAID the case was challenging for the court, especially since “the defendant’s background is relatively free of prior criminal activities, (Nelson) is an educated person and he has strong family support.”

However, Matney said the offense deprived the Anderson family of their daughter.

“That’s why the state is asking the court to impose both incarceration and supervision,” Matney said.

He specifically asked that Nelson serve time on Jessi Anderson’s birthday, her mother’s birthday, the day of Jessi’s death and Thanksgiving — what Anderson had described as a father-daughter day, when they would always go out hunting.

Stratton said his client had been following his legal advice not to make any statements until all of the evidence and information on the case had been made available to him.

“It can be interpreted as a lack of acceptance of responsibility, a lack of remorse. ... I’ve worked with Derrik a long time on this case. His alcohol evaluation involved thoughts of suicide,” Stratton said.

He told the court that probation and incarceration were appropriate, including the additional relevant dates Matney had asked Nelson serve.

“It’s not very often that I stand beside a defendant that has a PSI (pre-sentence investigation) that’s everything you want to see,” Stratton said.

He reiterated that Nelson had little criminal history and was well-educated, having worked as a teacher before his offense.

“That night, I don’t think should define Derrik’s life,” Stratton said.

When Nelson was given the chance to address the court, he opened with an apology.

“To Jessi’s entire family, I’m sorry for everything that happened, and I take full responsibility for what happened that night. ... I can’t imagine what all of you have gone through. ... Jessi meant the world to me,” Nelson said.

JUDGE PAUL VAUGHN said he had considered the comments of the counsel and the testimony in court.

He said the PSI described Jessi Anderson as a beautiful young lady admired by her friends and family, while the defendant had no prior criminal history and has had “a fairly remarkable life” with a good education.

“In the split of a moment, you made a decision ... you decided to look out for yourself rather than the victim,” Vaughn said to Nelson.

“Her family will never get over this loss. From everything I can see, both of you come from good families, good people. But you made a horrible decision.”

Vaughn said that without the false reporting charge, the motor vehicle homicide charge with no previous criminal history would generally make probation an appropriate sentence.

“The court does have to consider the defendant’s background, criminal history. Frankly, the jail time available on these charges is not that long,” Vaughn said.

He then sentenced Nelson to five years of probation and a $2,500 fine. Nelson’s license was impounded for six months, and he was ordered to perform 50 hours of community service.

Vaughn then ordered Nelson to spend 90 days in jail on each of the two charges. On the motor vehicle homicide charge, Nelson was ordered to serve 65 days immediately following his 90 day sentence for false reporting.

The remaining 25 days on the homicide charge will be served during Nelson’s probation on several dates, including Jessi Anderson’s birthday and the anniversary of her death, as well as other significant days to the Anderson family each year.

Following sentencing, Matney said he hopes Nelson’s sentencing brings closure to the Anderson family.

“Any time we deal with cases like this where it’s families that lose a loved one, those are the cases that stick with you forever,” Matney said.