Sunday, 17 June 2007

New S.D. rules to govern lethal injection in July

By Matthew Gruchow
Published: June 17, 2007

Almost a year after his days on death row were prolonged because of a technicality, Elijah Page again faces execution for the 2000 torture and murder of 19-year-old Chester Allan Poage in a gulch near Spearfish.This time, the state says it's ready to finish the job the week of July 9.Page, 25, is scheduled for lethal injection in a sterile room at the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls. The warden soon will select an exact time and day - no less than 48 hours before the execution. If carried out, it will mark the first execution in the state in 60 years and close a chapter on a dark story that most had thought would be in the history books by now.

The only reason Page didn't die Aug. 29 was Gov. Mike Rounds' determination, hours before the planned execution, that state law did not clearly allow for the three-drug cocktail prison officials planned to inject into Page. Lawmakers this year changed the state law, giving the warden freedom to choose the drugs used.South Dakota Attorney General Larry Long says the state took every step to ensure the execution "is going to be done by the numbers, in accordance with the law." Rounds has given no indication he intends to intervene. The only hurdle left is Page, who ended his own appeals process but could ask to resume it.

"He can back out any time he wants to," Long said. "Literally up to the last minute."Nationally, Long said almost half the inmates who end their appeals later change their minds. Letters written to Page by the Argus Leader went unanswered. But Page, who had lived in Athens, Texas, tells friends and authorities he wants to die. He has never wavered on that front.

By the book
Warden Doug Weber will select two people trained to administer intravenous injections to carry out the execution. Their identities are to be kept confidential.State policy identifies the three drugs used in the lethal injection as sodium pentothal, which will render Page unconscious, pancuronium bromide to stop his breathing and potassium chloride to stop his heart.

Each of those drugs can have legitimate medical uses, said Brian Kaatz, dean of the college of pharmacy at South Dakota State University. In large doses, however, any one of the drugs could be lethal, he said.Sodium pentothal is a barbiturate and sedative and quickly will render Page unconscious. Pancuronium bromide is a muscle relaxant commonly used during major surgeries and to relax muscles for the insertion of breathing tubes, Kaatz said.The third drug, potassium chloride, can damage cells, he said. "In this case, it damages the heart cells," Kaatz said.

Rounds, Long and the chief justice of the state Supreme Court will have phone numbers to reach prison officials in the event of last-minute appeals or stays of execution.Witnesses approved by Weber will be brought into the witness rooms, and curtains to the execution chamber will be opened once Page is prepared for execution. Page may make a final statement.

Once the drugs are injected, the warden will wait for a brief time before allowing the coroner to declare Page dead."Warden Weber takes every facet of this process very seriously," said Michael Winder, spokesman for the state corrections department.

A violent killing
Lawrence County Sheriff Richard Mowell, whose agency led the investigation, said he has a duty to the victim's family to attend."While I don't have any great desire to be there, I also understand that it's up to me to make sure that the final sentence is carried out and taken care of as the people of Lawrence County and the people of South Dakota expect," Mowell said.
He said Poage was forced to drink acid, thrown almost naked into a cold creek, kicked until his ears came off and beaten with rocks."There's just an enormous amount of pain Chester (Poage) must have had over a long period of time," Mowell said.Two others were involved in the crime. Briley Piper received the death penalty for his part. He remains on death row. Darrel Hoadley was found guilty in the murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Lawrence County State's Attorney John Fitzgerald called the Poage killing "the most profound case of torture in a murder case in South Dakota." The men had planned to rob Poage's mother's home and discussed that even after Poage was lying dead in the gulch, Fitzgerald said."They started calling out dibs on who was going to get what from his house," he said.

Fitzgerald said he had no doubts he should pursue the death penalty at trial or witness Page's execution."It's a unique sort of position to be in for a prosecuting attorney, but then the facts of the case make it clear what needs to be done," Fitzgerald said. "And I'm just enforcing the law."

Reach Matthew Gruchow at 331-2301.

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