Norfolk man found guilty for his part in fatal 2018 kidnapping

(Undated) -- A Norfolk man could spend the rest of his life in federal prison after being found guilty for his part in a fatal 2018 kidnapping.

The United States Attorney office says on Wednesday, a federal jury in Omaha found 50 year old Ramon Simpson guilty of Kidnapping Resulting in Death and Conspiracy to Commit Kidnapping.

Federal Prosecutors say the victim, Phyllis Hunhoff, regularly traveled from her home in Yankton, South Dakota to her mother’s home in Utica, South Dakota. They say her regular practice was to call her mother upon returning to Yankton. Prosecutors say around 9:45 the night of November 4, 2018, Hunhoff left her mother’s home, alone, to drive back to Yankton. They say Hunhoff didn't call her mom that night, because she never made it home. After her mother didn't hear from Phyllis, she repeatedly called Phyllis' phone to figure out where her daughter was, but Phyllis never answered any of the calls.

Prosecutors say at the time Hunhoff was leaving her mother's house, Ramon Simpson, Joseph James and other men were near her mother’s residence. They say James and Simpson encountered Phyllis outside of the home and got into her car. Investigators determined that Simpson and James kidnapped Hunhoff at that time, and took Phyllis and her vehicle to Norfolk, Nebraska.

Prosecutors say getting to Norfolk around 11:00, James remained in the vehicle, while Simpson exited the vehicle with James’s cell phone. Investigators say then James drove Hunhoff’s vehicle, with her inside, to the Santee Sioux Indian Reservation in Knox County, Nebraska. They say Simpson then deleted communications and location data from James’s phone that detailed their travels and activities on November 4th.

Video from a gas station on the Santee Reservation showed James driving Hunhoff’s vehicle and putting gasoline into her vehicle. Prosecutors say later, James returned to the gas station, in the same vehicle, and pumped gasoline into a soda bottle. James then drove to an isolated location on the Santee Reservation, where he set Hunhoff’s body and her vehicle on fire in an attempt to conceal evidence of the murder and kidnapping. James abandoned the body and vehicle and left the area.

On November 8, 2018, Hunhoff’s body was located inside of her vehicle on the Santee Sioux Indian Reservation. Investigators determined that Hunhoff had been killed by strangulation and stab wounds.

The FBI and other law enforcement officers investigated the murder and obtained evidence, including surveillance footage of James at the gas station during the early morning hours of November 5, 2018. Santee Police recovered the shirt James was wearing when he killed Phyllis Hunhoff, which contained her DNA. James’s DNA was also on clothing Hunhoff was wearing when he killed her. When contacted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Simpson repeatedly lied about his and James’s whereabouts on November 4 and 5, 2018.

James entered a plea of guilty to Murder in Indian Country on February 5, 2020, and on July 15, 2020 was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Acting United States Attorney Jan Sharp said, “The abduction and killing of Phyllis Hunhoff was a ghastly crime. Our hearts go out to her family. Mr. Simpson is richly deserving of the sentence he will likely receive. The two-year investigation and prosecution of Mr. Simpson, and Mr. James before him, was complicated by complex jurisdictional issues and the need to analyze volumes of digital evidence. The FBI and the trial team did an outstanding job putting together the case that led to Mr. Simpson’s conviction.”

After Wednesday’s verdict, FBI Omaha Special Agent in Charge Eugene Kowel said, “Ramon Simpson may not have killed Phylliss Hunhoff, but his participation in her abduction and kidnapping ultimately lead to her violent and senseless death. FBI Omaha is committed to continue working with our state and local partners to apprehend violent criminals and bring them to justice.”

The U.S. Attorney's Office says Kidnapping Resulting in Death carries a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment. Simpson's sentencing is set for June 30th.

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