Convincing a 12-member jury to unanimously hand down a death sentence can be an uphill battle. But that's how a group of Minnehaha County jurors voted Monday night as they all agreed that 43-year-old James McVay should be executed by lethal injection for the murder of 75-year-old Maybelle Schein.
It's the first time since 2011 that a South Dakota jury agreed to hand down a death sentence.
The last time a Minnehaha County jury considered a death penalty case they opted to instead hand down a life sentence to Daphne Wright in 2007. In South Dakota, if even one juror doesn't agree to the death penalty, a sentence of life in prison without parole is handed down.
Following Monday night's verdict, James McVay will become the fourth man on South Dakota death row. Including McVay, three of those four inmates have all been sentenced to death by a South Dakota jury.
"I had asked a lot of that jury for 12 people to issue a death sentence," Minnehaha County State's Attorney Aaron McGowan said.
After the verdict was read, McGowan talked about the tough burden prosecutors carry in making the case for the death penalty to a dozen jurors.
"That's an uphill battle for a prosecutor to get all 12 to agree on that sentence and have to live with that sentence for the rest of their life knowing that ultimately, they should assume he will die by lethal injection," McGowan said.
The last inmate to be sentenced to death by a jury was Briley Piper in 2011. Piper pleaded guilty to the 2000 beating death of Chester Allan Poage. He was first sentenced to death by a judge in 2001 but ten years later after the sentence was overturned, he was sentenced to death a second time, this time by a jury.
Charles Rhines was also sentenced to death by a jury in 1993 for the stabbing of 22-year-old Donnivan Schaeffer during a burglary of a doughnut shop in Rapid City.
The other death row inmate is Rodney Berget, who killed Correctional Officer Ron Johnson during a failed prison escape in 2011. A judge sentenced him to death, not a jury.
McGowan believes presenting the McVay case to a jury was the right thing to do.
"This was a crime that was so horrible in this community that I felt the responsibility to put that ultimate decision in the hands of 12 citizens of this county," McGowan said.
Even though a jury has decided that McVay should die by lethal injection, a formal sentencing hearing still has to be held. That hearing has not been scheduled yet.
The South Dakota Supreme Court will also automatically review the case.