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Sentence reduced for Minnesota man convicted in South Dakota casino robbery

ABERDEEN, S.D. — A Minnesota man who originally denied his involvement in a 2015 casino robbery in Aberdeen accepted responsibility for the crime last week at a hearing seeking a reduced sentence.

Roger L. Kihega, 38, of Cokato, was convicted at trial of the January 2015 robbery of Casino Korner. A second man involved in the robbery took a plea agreement and provided testimony at trial. They left through the back door with $4,600 after both fired a shot in the air, according to a synopsis of the case issued by the South Dakota Supreme Court. Nobody was injured.

Kihega was found guilty at trial Sept. 18, 2015 and sentenced to 50 years in prison with 12 years suspended and credit for 224 days served. He was also sentenced to five years in prison for attempted witness tampering, which is to be served consecutive to the robbery conviction.

An appeal to the South Dakota Supreme Court seeking an acquittal, new trial or new sentencing was rejected in 2017. Thursday’s hearing was an attempt to seek relief with sentencing, which was granted after some consideration. But his release is still years away.

Following a hearing seeking relief, Kihega was sentenced to 40 years in prison with 20 years suspended. He’ll have to serve at least 75 percent of the sentence and must then serve his five-year sentence for attempted witness tampering.

The primary reason for Kihega’s appeal was his change in demeanor. In a statement to the court, Kihega said, he “hit rock bottom” after the 2015 sentencing, did some soul searching and decided continuing down his current path in life was not something he wanted to do.

Kihega said that’s when he prayed, admitting he didn’t believe in God at the time, and asked for both help and forgiveness. He now works as a chapel orderly and church counselor and gives testimony about his life to others in prison.

“Change is possible,” Kihega said. “If you believe in second chances, this is me asking for a second chance.”

Defense attorney Tom Cogley agreed his client is a different person from the man he represented in 2015 and it was Kihega’s wife who initially told him there was something different about her husband.

Cogley said Kihega’s wife said her husband wasn’t angry anymore, and the court and others involved in his prosecution and conviction needed to be forgiven.

Cogley said he’s also noted a difference in Kihega’s letters and his client could have easily taken a different path after sentencing.

“The fact that he tried to go down a different path is impressive,” Cogley said.

Cogley didn’t ask for immediate release, but did suggest a sentence of 30 years with 15 suspended.

State’s Attorney Chris White argued his sentence shouldn’t change. While he believed Kihega was sincere in his comments, the court shouldn’t ignore Kihega’s criminal history.

White also said change is something that’s supposed to happen. If a modified sentence were granted, White said, a modification of a small number of years would be appropriate.

Sommers wasn’t initially convinced a sentence reduction was merited in this case.

“Shooting off a gun in a busy place is a big deal,” Sommers said.

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