Traumatic homicide investigation for family, law enforcement

Published: Nov. 21, 2016 at 6:15 PM CST
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A Sioux Falls man faces two counts of premeditated murder, accused of killing his mother and a seven-year-old boy.

The Minnehaha County Sheriff's department says Heath Otto, 24, murdered his mother, 48-year-old Carol Simon and a child in her home.

The crime has left a family torn apart and will forever be a dark memory for the first responders working the crime scene.

"Yesterday was a very traumatic day, one they won't forget," Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead said.

Minnehaha County officials say this kind of gruesome crime is emotionally draining, especially when a child is involved.

"Many of our officers are parents or grandparents, and to see something like this, you instantly go back to thinking about your own children, your own grandchildren," Milstead said.

The investigation took such a toll on law enforcement that everyone who entered the scene went through a counseling debrief before leaving Sunday night.

"The peer support won't make them forget it, but it will hopefully allow them to better cope with it, and that's what the goal is," Milstead said.

However, the difficult double homicide investigation is not over yet.

"Currently detectives are in the middle of the autopsies right now with both individuals,” Captain Jason Gearman with the Minnehaha County Sheriff’s office said.

During the suspect’s bond hearing Monday afternoon, McGowan said the victims were strangled until they were unconscious; their throats were then slit with a knife from the kitchen.

“It is a very sensitive investigation, I just met with family members,” Gearman said.

Yet another devastating aspect of this case was notifying the family members whose lives will never be the same.

“Imagine how that's compounded to the families of the victims,” Milstead said. “The first responders not only see that, but often times they're involved in the notification of the families and seeing that heartbreak that something like this causes.”

The scene inside the courtroom Monday afternoon was incredibly emotional. The family members of the victims, and even the suspect, were all in tears. Several family members collapsed to the floor of the courtroom as they heard the details of how their loved ones died for the very first time; an agony that is impossible to fathom in this case

The suspect is charged with two counts of premeditated murder that carry a penalty of life in prison or capital punishment.

While McGowan said it is too early in the case to determine if he will pursue capital punishment, he did say the 7-year-old victim in this case fits the state's requirements for capital punishment.

“Under South Dakota law any time a victim is under 13 years old the death penalty could be applicable. That is the specific aggravated circumstance under South Dakota law,” McGowan said.

The court set a $5 million cash bond for the suspect.