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Inside KELOLAND: Upcoming Execution

July 8, 2007, 10:30 AM by Karen Sherman

Inside KELOLAND: Upcoming Execution
When Elijah Page is executed by lethal injection, he will be the first person to be killed using that method in South Dakota. And it will be the state's first execution in 60 years. 

It was in March of 2000 that Chester Allan Poage of Spearfish was brutally beaten and stabbed to death. Poage's body was found April 22nd in Higgins Gulch west of Spearfish. Within a week, authorities had 3 suspects in custody. 

While one of the men went to trial, Briley Piper and Elijah Page both pleaded guilty and were sentenced to death. In early 2006, Page announced he was giving up his appeals and was ready to die. A judge granted his request in August and a date was set for him to die. 

But when the time came, Governor Mike Rounds postponed the execution just four hours before it was scheduled to happen, because of confusion over the number of drugs that could be used.  The previous law stated that two drugs would be used, but current methods across the country typically used three to put someone to death. The South Dakota legislature changed that this year allowing prison officials to use whatever lethal injection method they choose. 

For the man who prosecuted Page, Lawrence County State's Attorney John Fitzgerald, it was a simple decision to ask for the death penalty. Fitzgerald says, "I've never been involved in a case where the homicide victim was tortured and mutilated while he was still alive other than this one case." 

State law requires only one aggravating circumstance present to justify executing a criminal. Fitzgerald says this case had at least four: Torture, Mutilation, Killing someone for money and killing someone to eliminate them as a witness in court proceedings. "Those are four that come right to mind, only one of which would be necessary to seek the death penalty so as soon as the facts were known it was easy to see that this was a case that qualified, " he says. 

Although Page ended his appeals relatively early, it has been seven years since he was convicted, a long time for family members to deal with the crime. Fitzgerald says, "It would be just heartbreaking probably, frustrating. Words probably wouldn't describe exactly how you'd feel if you were in that situation where a loved one was killed and the murderers got the death penalty but it took fifteen, twenty years for it to be executed." 

On top of that, as a result of the delayed execution, Fitzgerald says the victim's mother, Dottie Poage, has experienced additional suffering. "She had prepared herself for what was about to occur and then without any forewarning it was called off and that left her in despair, " Fitzgerald says. 

After the scheduled execution takes place, Fitzgerald hopes she will be given some comfort. Fitzgerald says, "I think that the attention and the focus needs to be on the victim of the crime rather than the brutal murderer in this case but I do understand that because it's the first one in sixty years that there will be a lot of focus and attention on Elijah Page." He hopes that once attention fades away from Page, people will always remember the victim, Chester Allan Poage.

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