The Mitchell Daily Republic makes up for yesterday's sheerly speculative coverage of the shooting death of former state economic development and tourism secretary Richard Benda with an interview with the man who found Benda's body, his brother-in-law Jim Johanneson. Reporter Luke Hagen gets details about what Jim saw from Jim himself and from his brother Ray.

The article oddly does not establish a timeline of what day Benda spoke to Johanneson or when Johanneson found the body. Here are the details Hagen does write:

  • Jim Johanneson says Benda told him he was going pheasant hunting.
  • Jim found the body "in a grove of trees near an abandoned farmstead about 1.5 miles north of Jim Johanneson’s house."
  • Ray says Benda never told Jim he was going out hunting with anyone else.
  • Ray says Jim says that "his [Benda's] gun was lying against a tree and he was lying alongside the tree or whatever."
  • Jim told Ray he saw no blood and thought Benda had had a heart attack.
  • Jim said the police told him there was a gunshot wound.
  • Ray said that Jim said that the sheriff said (yup, three deep) that the sheriff turned the body a found "a bullet hole in his side."

If we take words for exactly what they are, "pheasant hunting" and "bullet hole" don't go together. The eyewitness account speaks of only one gun on the scene. If Benda was pheasant hunting, that gun was a shotgun. That gun would not put a "bullet hole in his side."

If we take words for exactly what they mean, this eyewitness account suggests the authorities are looking for someone who, on accident or not, shot Benda.

Folks are asking why Richard Benda's shooting death is any of our business, how knowing the details will have any impact on the life of the polis. Indeed, I usually shun the death/tragedy/crime-of-the-week stories that lead the local news exactly because they are more emotional than instructive.

But the details above suggest we have a case in which a former state official integrally involved in multi-million-dollar financial deals, one of which just happens to be going through a spectacular bankruptcy, goes out hunting and doesn't come back. And this first substantive report from any reporter offers details that suggest that someone else shot him. That possibility moves us from sad story to public concern.