Gov. Mike Rounds halted South Dakota’s first execution in 59 years just hours before it was scheduled to occur Tuesday, saying the state law detailing how to administer lethal drugs is obsolete.
Elijah Page, 24, had asked to be put to death by lethal injection for the 2000 torture murder of a Spearfish man. It had been scheduled for 10 p.m.
Rounds and Atty. Gen. Larry Long said a 1984 law requires the state to use two drugs to kill a condemned person but that state prison officials planned to use the standard three-drug combination, putting them at legal risk.
“I will not have the individuals responsible for carrying out this execution to be placed in a position to where they would be or could be in violation of a state statute in the carrying out of an execution,” Rounds said. “We could have had people wondering for the rest of their lives if they did the right thing.”
The postponement is in place until July 1, he said. That will give lawmakers time during the next legislative session to review the law and bring it in line with those of most other states using lethal injection.
Rounds said he learned of the problem last week after reading an Aug. 14 transcript of a competency hearing for Page. Another death row inmate raised the issue in June as part of his appeal.
Rounds said he asked for a review by Long, who didn’t report back until Tuesday afternoon, about five hours before the planned execution. Long said Page had agreed to waive the two-drug protocol.
Page this year persuaded a judge to let him fire his lawyer and proceed with his execution for his role in the 2000 slaying of Chester Allan Poage, 19.
Page and two other young men killed Poage in the Black Hills so there would be no witness to the theft of a Chevy Blazer, stereo, television, coin collection, video game and other items from his home.
Page and Briley Piper, 25, pleaded guilty, and a judge sentenced them to die. The third man, Darrell Hoadley, 26, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Page’s case was considered unusual because a judge -- not a jury -- imposed the death sentence, he had asked to die, and because of his young age.
The last execution in South Dakota was in 1947.
Meanwhile Tuesday, Eric Allen Patton, 49, condemned for the 1994 death of a woman during a burglary, was executed in McAlester, Okla., under a new state procedure that delivers a larger dose of anesthesia before the fatal drugs are administered.
He had sued to stop the execution, arguing that inmates might be subjected to pain.