Gov. Mike Rounds halted South Dakota's first execution in 59 years just hours before it was scheduled Tuesday, saying the state law detailing how to administer lethal drugs is obsolete.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 Attorney General Larry Long said that a 1984 law requires the state to use two drugs to kill a condemned person -- but 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 delay is in place until July 1, 2007, he said. That would give lawmakers time during the next legislative session to review the law and bring it into line with most other states that use lethal injection.
Rounds said he learned of the legal problem last week after reading an Aug. 14 transcript of a competency hearing for Page. Another death row inmate also 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 that there would be no witness to the theft of a Chevy Blazer, stereo, television, coin collection, video game and other items from the victim's home.
Two hours of torture
As Poage begged for his life, the three men made him take off most of his clothes and forced him into an icy creek. They stabbed him repeatedly, kicked him in the head 30 to 40 times, tearing his ears off, and then bashed him with large rocks. He was also forced to drink a combination of drain cleaner and beer. The torture lasted at least two hours.
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 with no 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 age. Death penalty groups said only seven people younger than 25 had been executed in the United States since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed capital punishment to resume in 1976.
The last execution in South Dakota was in 1947.
Also Tuesday, an Oklahoma inmate was executed under a revised state procedure aimed at minimizing pain by delivering a larger dose of anesthesia before the fatal drugs are administered.