[Deathpenalty] death penalty news-----SOUTH DAKOTA
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sat Aug 26 16:56:42 UTC 2006
SOUTH DAKOTA----impending volunteer execution
Voluntary execution shortens debate----Page's decision to die clouds moral
Elijah Page's willingness to die next week spares South Dakota the delay
that's come with other death penalty cases, and it might frustrate those
wishing he'd change his mind.
But his decision not to challenge his sentence also brings a sense of
immediacy to his final days that's foreign to modern justice in the state.
His crime was six years ago, and South Dakotans have known for months that
the week of Aug. 28 was a possibility for the state's first execution
since 1947. But the reality might not have settled in until Circuit Judge
Warren Johnson ruled Aug. 14 that Page was of sound mind and able to
forego the legal appeals still open to him. The finality of that ruling
pressed into a two-week window all street-corner talk of the significance
of the moment.
"The only person who's rushing to judgment is Elijah Page," Attorney
General Larry Long said Friday. The outcome is up to Page, even up to the
last minute, said Long, who plans to watch the execution through a window
in the witness room at the state penitentiary in Sioux Falls. "He can sit
up on the gurney and say, 'I've changed my mind,' and that request will be
Of particular interest as the hours pass are Page's decision to let
Johnson determine his fate and the fact that an accomplice in the murder
of Chester Poage received a lighter sentence from a jury. Other questions
Lori Ponto, 39, of Brookings, said Page's young age works against him if
he, at 24, thought about trying to get his sentence changed to life in
prison. "That could be 75 years," she said. "Maybe he's thinking, 'Do I
really want to live my life that way?' "
Dr. Roger Knutsen, 53, a Rapid City physician, suggested Page is depressed
"probably in a way where he can't live with himself and would rather die."
He said, however, the imminent execution forces South Dakotans to consider
the issue in a way that wouldn't happen if the schedule were indefinite.
"I don't think he's spared us anything," he said. "We're now facing the
questions that any state would face. We're going to deal with those
Dave Mitchell, a professor at Dakota Wesleyan University since 1972, said
that while Page has made the process go faster, he doesn't know what more
there would be to discuss.
"People who oppose the death penalty obviously think this is a rush to
judgment," Mitchell said. "Others say you screw around on this stuff,
let's pull the switch. ... If the governor is not going to do anything
with clemency, what is the point of more discussion? At this point, the
arguments would only have an impact on the governor."
Mitchell said that almost all studies show that the death penalty does not
deter murder, nor provide closure to grieving families. He said that,
without agreeing, he does recognize the argument that the death penalty
provides "a sense of striking a proper balance - that there's something
about some crimes that requires society to express its abhorrence in a
particularly pronounced way."
Nonetheless, he predicted capital punishment will fade as juries become
more reluctant to impose it.
"For all the rough talk in South Dakota, juries don't pull the trigger
very often," Mitchell said. "I think that's great."
Page is facing death while his 2 accomplices face a different outcome for
the deeds of March 12, 2000. They beat him for more than 3 hours, thrust a
knife through his neck, kicked and stabbed him repeatedly in the head,
dropped several heavy rocks on his head and left him partially clad in a
snowy gulch in the Black Hills.
Briley Piper, like Page, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to death by
Judge Johnson. But Piper is appealing, setting up what history suggests
will be years of delay. Darrell Hoadley went to trial, where a jury found
him guilty of killing Poage but gave him a life sentence instead of death.
"It's grossly disproportionate in light of the one that did go to trial
and got a life sentence," said Jon Van Patten, professor at the University
of South Dakota Law School.
Van Patten said that because of the apparent unevenness of sentences, he
agreed with the minority in the 3-2 Supreme Court decision upholding
Page's sentence. Still, he respects the majority, he said, and the system
as a whole.
"In this case, what drove it to the sentence were the facts," Van Patten
said. "I've talked to a lot of people about this. Everybody starts with
the observation that this is a terrible, terrible story. Everyone's
reaction was that this was maybe the most brutal killing in South Dakota
The rules were in place, and Page by his actions is saying he is willing
to encounter the final result. "We've agreed in advance on a process and
the process was followed," Van Patten said.
The brevity of the process after Page's final hearing sets him apart in
state history. Since the Legislature reinstated capital punishment in
1979, 5 men have been sentenced to die.
Other crimes have resulted in death penalty trials where a jury handed out
a life sentence. In other cases, defendants pleaded guilty in an agreement
to avoid a death penalty trial.
Long said Page's unusual case doesn't change the merits of the process.
"My view is Americans are obsessed by fairness, and that's why Mr. Page
has a direct appeal to the South Dakota Supreme Court, and if he elects to
exercise it, he has a 2nd right to appeal," Long said. "And after that he
has the right to appeal all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. That's our
system. Page is entitled to every one of those remedies."
(source: Sioux Falls Argus Leader)
More information about the DeathPenalty