South Dakota prepares for execution

Elijah Page
24-year-old Elijah Page is not appealing his death sentence and a judge has found Page competent to make the decision. If he's executed, Page will be the 8th person younger than 25 to be executed in the United States since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.
Courtesy Rapid City Journal

Elijah Page was sentenced to die by lethal injection in 2001 after pleading guilty to the brutal murder of 19-year-old Chester Poage. Page, from Athens, Texas, and two of his friends set out to rob Poage. But in order to prevent Poage from reporting the robbery they decided to murder him.

Attorney General Larry Long says it was a violent death in which the beating went on for several hours.

"The terror and the torture and the inhumanity they put that kid through I'm sure is what convinced the judge to give Mr. Page the death penalty. I totally agree with it," says Long.

South Dakota Attorney General Larry Long
South Dakota Attorney General Larry Long says he supports Capitol Punishment. He says some crimes deserve more than life in prison.
MPR Photo/Cara Hetland

Elijah Page and Briley Piper both pleaded guilty to the crime and received the death sentence from the judge. The third man, had a jury trial and received life in prison.

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Now 24 years old, Elijah Page is not appealing his sentence and a judge has found Page competent to make the decision. If he's executed, Page will be the 8th person younger than 25 to be executed in the United States since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. Attorney General Larry Long says Page is making a conscious decision to accept his punishment.

"Frankly there's part of me that believes he's finally made a responsible decision. That he has said himself that he deserves the death penalty and he's willing to see it carried out," says Long.

Deb McIntyre, Executive Director of South Dakota's Peace and Justice Center, says Elijah Page was an abused child. His mother traded him to be used sexually for drugs. His father physically abused him.

"People respond out of their own pain, frustration, and negativity," says McIntyre. "What those boys did came out of a violence that was angry at all of us. It came out of a violence that was looking for an outlet of what had been done to them," she says.

McIntyre is organizing a letter writing campaign focusing on Gov. Mike Rounds and Elijah Page. Page can delay his execution saying he wants to appeal his death sentence. Governor Rounds can stop the execution by commuting Page's death sentence to life without parole. Deb McIntyre says if the state goes through with the execution it's nothing more than state assisted suicide.

South Dakota's execution chamber
South Dakota's execution chamber.
Courtesy of South Dakota Department of Corrections

"You can't have a double standard here. It makes no sense to be able to say if we kill Elijah Page then we're better than he was," says McIntyre.

South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds says he won't intervene. Political observers say he doesn't have to.

Bill Richardson, Chairman of the University of South Dakota Political Science Department, says the governor's stance on this case can't be used against him politically because he isn't being asked by Elijah Page to do anything.

"The governor, unless something changes, is merely the person watching with the greatest power. There's really no return for him intervening of his on volition," says Richardson.

There are still plenty of legal questions about the death penalty in the United States. South Dakota is one of 37 states that use lethal injection as its form of execution. Another South Dakota death row inmate is challenging the constitutionality of lethal injection. It's one of a number of cases around the country that claim lethal injection causes pain making it cruel and unusual punishment.

The U.S. Supreme Court stopped an execution in June because of questions over lethal injection. Since then executions have been stopped in three other states.