Harrisburg school shooter’s rape trial to begin Tuesday
The Hughes County trial could have serious implications on Mason Buhl’s school shooting case from 2015, which was reopened after rape charges were filed.
PIERRE — A Sioux Falls man responsible for the 2015 shooting at Harrisburg High School is set to stand trial on Tuesday, Jan. 31, for rape charges, which could have serious implications on his conditions of parole.
Mason Buhl, 23, will appear in a Hughes County Courtroom on Tuesday for a jury trial where he will seek acquittal on four counts of second-degree rape.
Prosecutors say the rape occurred between June 2020 and July 2021, while Buhl was on probation.
Though court documents regarding the crime remain under seal, other previously unsealed documents obtained by Forum News Service in May 2022 outlined the victim’s claims that Buhl repeatedly sexually assaulted and raped her. Specifically, the victim testified under oath that Buhl, while intoxicated, would force her to perform oral sex against her wishes.
Days after Forum News Service’s original publication of that report, Lincoln County State’s Attorney Tom Wollman said the document was never intended to be public, and wasn’t sealed at the time as a result of a clerical error.
The rape charge, filed in Hughes County in August 2021, has seen multiple delays before heading to trial, at both the request of prosecutors and the defense. The Jan. 31 jury trial is the fourth attempt at holding a trial, after the original trial in February 2022 was continued thrice.
If Buhl were to be convicted on all charges in Hughes County, he could be sentenced to serve as many as 200 years in prison and pay fines of up to $200,000.
Charges hold heavy weight on 2015 shooting sentence
Regardless of the verdict in Buhl’s upcoming rape trial, criminal charges alone could be enough to re-impose his original sentence from his 2017 attempted murder conviction in Lincoln County.
After shooting the Harrisburg High School principal at the time, Kevin Lien, during the school day on Sept. 30, 2015, Buhl was sentenced in August 2017 to serve 25 years in prison. His prison sentence was entirely suspended on the condition that he comply with the terms of his probation through 2032.
During Buhl’s 2017 sentencing, Judge Brad Zell told Buhl that if he exhibits “exhibit[s] any, any violent behavior whatsoever, I will be quick from any judgment to remove you from society,” and installed a restriction from Buhl getting into any further trouble with the law.
Zell is no longer presiding over the case, as he vacated his seat on the bench upon his retirement in 2019. Instead, the reopened Lincoln County case lies in the hands of Judge Rachel Rasmussen, a former public defender who was appointed to a judgeship by Gov. Kristi Noem in 2019.
Wollman — who is prosecuting the case alongside assistant state’s attorney Amanda Eden — has declined to Forum News Service on multiple occasions to discuss the specifics of Buhl’s alleged probation violation, citing the ongoing nature of the case.
Buhl, who has denied in court filings that he violated his probation, is set to appear in a Lincoln County courtroom on Feb. 7, just days after his jury trial in Hughes County is set to conclude.
If convicted, he could be sentenced to serve the original 25-year prison sentence ordered by Zell in 2017.
Buhl is not in custody after posting a $10,000 cash bond in Lincoln County and a separate $50,000 cash bond in Hughes County, both in August 2021. If necessary after the conclusion of his jury trial and suspended imposition revocation hearing, Buhl is also set to appear in a Minnehaha County courtroom on Feb. 23 for a permanent protection order hearing requested by the victim in the rape case.