SD Supreme Court Hears Death Row Inmate’s Case

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The murder of Chester Allan Poage remains one of the grisliest crimes in South Dakota, and now the man convicted of killing him is fighting his death sentence. The South Dakota Supreme Court is hearing Briley Piper’s case. Piper and two other men were charged with first degree murder in 2000 for beating Poage to death. Piper pleaded guilty, and a circuit court judge sentenced him to death, instead of a jury. Now his attorney says Piper got bad advice from his previous attorneys. 

Six years ago, Poage’s mother said the pain of her son’s murder is still with her. 

“You know, my son’s life was cut way too short.  He was never able to marry and have children, to give me grandchildren.  That’s something that I can only vision in my mind.  What if?” Dottie Poage said in 2012.

Now South Dakota Supreme Court justices have a different question to answer. Did Piper have bad legal advice when he said no to a jury trial to decide if he should get the death penalty.

“We know Briley Piper did not adequately understand the consequences of his guilty plea when he walked in in 2001,” Ryan Kolbeck, Piper’s attorney, said. 

Piper’s attorney wants the Supreme Court to remand the case, meaning send it back to court for a new trial. 

“I know that sounds drastic. I know that sounds crazy in 2018 to go back to 2001, but if due process means anything, if the advisement of rights means anything, that must occur,” Kolbeck said. 

“The torture inflicted on Chester Allen Poage was unprecedented in this state’s history,” Paul Swedlund, Assistant Attorney General, said.

Swedlund is arguing against a new trial, and says there’s no evidence Piper was misinformed. 

“He knew what he wanted. He wanted a court sentencing. He raced into the courthouse to be the first of his trio to plead guilty so he could appear to accept responsibility,” Swedlund said. 

This is the third time Piper’s case has been in front of the Supreme Court. He applied for a writ of habeas corpus in 2006, arguing he was not properly informed of his right to have a jury decide whether to impose the death. The Supreme Court agreed and the case went back to circuit court for re-sentencing by a jury.  The jury upheld his death penalty. The Supreme Court reviewed this case again In 2011, and affirmed his death sentence. 

The Supreme Court will decide this case at a later date. 

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