South Dakota school shooter accepts plea deal; rape charges dismissed

Mason Buhl pleaded nolo contendere to one count of simple domestic assault, dismissing rape charges. Further hearings regarding the reopened 2015 Harrisburg shooting case are scheduled for next week.

Mason Buhl
Mason Buhl, of Sioux Falls, appears in court on Oct. 1, 2015, in Canton. He was later sentenced to probation for shooting and wounding the Harrisburg High School principal.
Barry Amundson / Forum News Service

PIERRE — A Sioux Falls man responsible for the 2015 shooting at Harrisburg High School has accepted a plea agreement that dismisses four counts of rape in exchange for a misdemeanor conviction.

In paperwork dated Thursday, Jan. 26, 23-year-old Mason Buhl, of Sioux Falls, pleaded nolo contendere to one count of simple domestic assault in exchange for the dismissal of four counts of second-degree rape.

Hughes County State’s Attorney Jessica LaMie explained that a nolo contendere plea — also commonly referred to as an Alford plea — is an agreement to plead guilty to a charge while still maintaining innocence.

The plea agreement came just days before a three-day jury trial was set to commence at the Hughes County Courthouse in Pierre on Tuesday, Jan. 31.

The dismissal of the four Class 1 felonies leaves Buhl facing sentencing on one Class 1 misdemeanor, reducing any potential jail time from up to 200 years in prison to a maximum of one year in jail.


The conviction in Hughes County could have an impact on Buhl’s attempted murder case in Lincoln County, which was reopened when rape charges were filed against him in Hughes County in August 2021.

In Lincoln County, Buhl faces up to 25 years in prison, a sentence that was suspended upon his 2017 conviction for shooting Harrisburg High School principal Kevin Lien during a school day in 2015. Lien was struck in the arm but survived.

In a Tuesday phone call, LaMie told Forum News Service that the sentencing portion regarding Buhl’s conviction of simple domestic assault would be placed on hold until prosecutors in Lincoln County can reach a determination on whether Buhl had violated his probation.

Under his 2015 shooting conviction, Buhl was to stay out of legal trouble and avoid displays of violent behavior for a 15-year probation period ending in 2032.

Buhl is set to appear in a Lincoln County courtroom on Feb. 7 for a probation violation hearing, where prosecutors aim to convince a judge that he is eligible for the reimposition of his original prison sentence.

Lincoln County State’s Attorney Tom Wollman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A South Dakota native, Hunter joined Forum Communications Company as a reporter for the Mitchell (S.D.) Republic in June 2021 and now works as a digital reporter for Forum News Service, focusing on local news in Sioux Falls. He also writes regional news spanning across the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
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