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Norfolk, NE man pleads guilty to murder of Yankton, SD woman

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(KTIV) - One of the men charged in the November 2018 death of a Yankton, South Dakota, woman has pleaded guilty.

On Tuesday in U.S. Federal Court in Omaha, 48-year-old Joseph James pled guilty to First Degree Murder in Indian Country. Sentencing is set for May 6 in Omaha.

As part of his agreement, James has waived his right to appeal, to seek a pardon, or commutation.

A second man - Ramon Simpson - is charged with kidnapping resulting in death and conspiracy to commit kidnapping.

Hunhoff's body was found in the back seat of her car near the Bazile Bridge on Nov. 7, 2018. The discovery came just three days after she was reported missing from her mother's house in Utica, South Dakota.

According to an indictment, authorities say James and Simpson abducted Hunhoff, in Utica, on November 4, 2018, and traveled with her in her vehicle from South Dakota to Nebraska.

Authorities say Simpson made false statements to an FBI Special Agent about where he was traveling on the day of Hunoff's disappearance.

According to a criminal complaint, authorities found a quantity of blood on the seats and car’s body and the windows were obscured by soot.

The complaint says a fire had been set and burned the back of the front passenger seat. Some of the items removed from the vehicle smelled strongly of gasoline, including a soda bottle and some clothes.

According to the complaint, video provided to the Santee Sioux Nation Tribal Police from the Feather Hill gas station at the Ohiya Casino, shows James getting out of the driver seat of Hunhoff’s vehicle at 3:10 a.m. on Nov. 5, 2018.

Nearly three hours later at 5:51 a.m., video from Feather Hill shows James pumping gasoline into a one-liter soda bottle.

According to the complaint, James told the gas station attendant the blood on his t-shirt was from a deer he hit.  He asked if the attendant knew anyone that could help him get his truck out of a ditch, and said the vehicle he was driving belonged to a friend in Yankton.

According to the complaint, at 7:30 a.m. on Nov.  5, 2018, James came to the home of Marion Brandt and Syd Goodteacher on the Santee Indian Reservation.

Goodteacher gave James directions and a fresh t-shirt because James said people at another location had looked at him funny when he stopped there due to blood on his shirt.

According to the criminal complaint, a DNA profile on the shirt found the blood belonged to Hunhoff.

"The FBI's partnership with the Santee Sioux Nation Tribal Police, Knox County Sheriff, Knox County Sheriff, and Nebraska State Patrol were vital to the success of this investigation," said Kristi Johnson, FBI Special Agent in Charge. "So long as our Native American partners face terrible crimes like this on reservation land, the FBI stands ready to work alongside them as we together seek justice for all."

Blake Branch

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