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South Dakota rejoins the execution club

Elijah Page first to die in 60 years

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South Dakota yesterday executed its first prisoner in 60 years, 25-year-old Elijah Page, who succumbed to a "lethal combination of three drugs at the state penitentiary in Sioux Falls", the local Argus Leader reports.

Page was convicted, along with Darrell Hoadley and Briley Piper, of the murder of Chester Allan Poage in 2000. The three were found guilty of "stabbing and kicking Poage, bashing him with large rocks and forcing him to drink hydrochloric acid" over a period of two to three hours. Hoadley subsequently received a life sentence, while Briley is awaiting his appointment with the executioner on death row.

Page's execution had been delayed twice. The original date of 29 August 2006 was postponed "because of concerns that a 1984 state law requiring the use of two drugs for lethal injection could put prison officials at legal risk if they instead administered a three-drug combination that now is considered standard".

He was then slated for execution on Tuesday this week, but governor Mike Rounds "delayed it 24 hours out of respect for the family of Staff Sgt Robb Rolfing, killed June 30 in Baghdad and buried Tuesday at Woodlawn Cemetery in Sioux Falls".

Page had "given up his appeals and had asked to die". His father, Kenneth Chapman, said before the execution he'd "visited his son every day for the past week...and told him he loved him". He stressed: "He wants everybody to know he feels bad for what happened. He's not a cold-hearted person like they're making him out to be."

After receiving last visits from friends and family at 4pm, he requested a last meal of "steak, jalapeno peppers with cream sauce, onion rings, and a salad with cherry tomatoes, ham chunks, shredded cheese, bacon bits, and blue cheese and ranch dressing" followed by ice cream and coffee.

The Argus Leader continues: "Page, dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit, was moved from his holding cell at 9.40pm, placed on the table in the execution chamber at 9.41pm, and put into restraints at 9.43pm. Leather straps were secured across his chest, midsection and feet, witnesses said. A sheet covered the lower half of his body.

"Once Page was strapped to the table, intravenous lines were placed into each of his arms during the next six minutes. The witnesses then entered the viewing room at 9.51pm, and after Page declined to comment, the drugs began flowing at 10.02pm, administered by two people trained to carry out the injections."

Witness Carson Walker of The Associated Press, said that Page declined to offer any last words, and almost immediately "received sodium pentothal through one of the IV lines to render him unconscious". He was then finished off with "pancuronium bromide to stop his breathing and potassium chloride to stop his heart".

Walker explained: "It was just a matter of seconds...and we didn't see anything or hear anything. The next thing we heard were several gasps, almost like a snoring. His chest heaved three times."

Page was declared dead at 10.11pm.

Lawrence County State's Attorney John Fitzgerald, who "prosecuted Page and insisted on the death penalty" and also witnessed the execution, declared: "His debt to the state of South Dakota is now paid in full."

Fellow witness Richard Mowell, Lawrence County Sheriff, said the death penalty was appropriate punishment for "a brutal, torturous murder". He said: "I can assure you that Elijah Page had a much quieter, quicker, and apparently painless death. But I can assure you he will never be able to do this again."

Page's end was also watched by his victim's mother, Dottie Poage. She said: "Elijah Page had the ultimate penalty for the ultimate crime, and for that I'm proud of the state, the attorney general, the governor, and everyone at the state penitentiary for doing a job well done. I'm proud to be an American."

South Dakota's last execution was in 1947, when it dispatched George Sitts to the hereafter in the electric chair. Page was the fifteenth person executed in the state since 1877.

About 100 anti-capital punishment demonstrators protested outside the penitentiary yesterday, while 10 people voiced their support for the sentence. ®

Related links

Radio RTFM: Dying with dignity (MP3)

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