Thursday, July 29, 2010

Execution in "Lawless" South Dakota

Only 13 Recorded Executions in South Dakota

This week while visiting the Black Hills of South Dakota I stopped by the once lawless town of Deadwood. The town near the border of Wyoming was a gold mining boom town of the late nineteenth century. Deadwood was known for it saloons, brothels and outlaws. Wild Bill Hickok was shot in the back at the No. 10 Saloon holding his hand of aces and eights--forever known as the deadman's hand.

Deadwood was also the backdrop of the the critically acclaimed HBO series Deadwood. With all of this frontier lawlessness I was interested in the history of the death penalty in South Dakota.

The first execution in the Dakota Territory was that of the "Coward Jack McCall" the man who shot Hickok. He was initially acquitted by a makeshift jury shortly after the murder. He was later apprehended in Wyoming after bragging about the murder. He was tried in a "real" territorial court and hanged March 1, 1877.

Since McCall there have only been 12 executions in "lawless" South Dakota. An execution that garnered a lot of attention was that of John B. Lehman in Custer County, near Hill City. Lehman killed a constable serving a warrant in July of 1889. He was tried three times and his execution was delayed by legal maneuvering. During a time when executions were often carried out in months sometimes weeks after the murder, Lehman wasn't executed until February 19, 1892, two and a half years after the murder.

More than half of the the executions in South Dakota occurred between 1882 and 1887.
Hanging was the only method of execution used until 1915 when death penalty was temporary abolished. Since 1915, there have only been two executions.

The death penalty was reinstated in 1933 and the electric chair became the sole method of execution. Only one person was electrocuted in South Dakota. The electric chair was used in 1947. That was the last execution for 60 years.

The most recent execution in South Dakota was in 2007. Elijah Page was executed on July 12, 2007. He plead guilty to the brutal murder of Chester Allen Poage. Two other men were involved in the crime. One was sentenced to life in prison, the other is on death row.

According to Minnesota Public Radio, Page spent his final day in a holding cell near the execution chamber. He had several visitors including family members and friends. Around 6 p.m., Page ate his last meal. He requested steak, jalapeno poppers, onion rings, a salad and ice cream.

At 9:40, guards removed Page from his holding cell and transferred him to a gurney. He wore a prison-issued orange jumpsuit and white socks. Guards restrained Page with a leather strap across his chest and around each arm and leg. An I-V was inserted into each arm.

Warden Doug Weber asked Page if he had any last words. Page said "No." Warden Weber said, "Do I understand you to say you have no last words?" Inmate Page said, "Yes, no last words."

The lethal injections began at 10:02 p.m. and were finished at 10:04 p.m. An EMT pronounced Elijah Page dead at 10:11 p.m.

To read more about Page's Execution:

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