MOUNT CLEMENS, Mich. – A man set to die by lethal injection, would be the first to be executed in South Dakota in 59 years.
Elijah Page, 24, has asked to fire his lawyer, forgo appeals and die by lethal injection for his role in the March 13, 2000, slaying of 19-year-old Chester Poage. Page and two other men beat, stabbed and tortured Poage in Higgins Gulch near Spearfish in the Black Hills of western South Dakota.
Page, of Athens, Texas, should find out at a hearing Monday if the same judge who handed down his death sentence will grant his request.
Judge Warren Johnson of Deadwood had ordered a mental evaluation before considering Page's request.
"If the results show you're competent to make the decisions, I will be inclined to honor your decision," Johnson told Page at a May hearing.
Defense lawyer Mike Butler has said he thinks Page's decision to end his appeals might be equivalent to a suicide attempt.
Page's execution already is set for the week of Aug. 28 at the state penitentiary in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The state Supreme Court has upheld his death sentence.
Johnson sentenced Page and Briley Piper, 25, of Anchorage, Alaska, to death in 2001 even though they pleaded guilty, saying he considered the killing vile and depraved.
That combination of a guilty plea and death sentence is rare, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which provides analysis and information on capital punishment issues.
South Dakota prosecutors have sought the death penalty in some cases but it rarely is imposed by the state's juries — let alone judges.
Page's refusal to pursue appeals also is out of the ordinary.
"There have been quite a few people, that is about 12 percent of those executed (in the U.S.), who had waived part of their appeals," said Dieter. It is "somewhat unusual to waive every possible appeal," as Page has done.
The third man charged with Poage's killing, Darrell Hoadley, 26, of Lead, South Dakota, opted to stand trial. He was convicted and a split jury sentenced him to life in prison.
According to testimony, Hoadley said Page and Piper planned to steal a stereo, a television and other property from Poage's mother's house in Spearfish, South Dakota. A prosecutor said Poage was killed so there would be no witness.
Hoadley said Piper stabbed Poage three times in the head and neck, and Page kicked Poage 30 to 40 times in the head, tearing his ears off, then hit him on the head with large rocks.
Hoadley said he hit Poage with two large rocks near the end of the attack, which lasted at least two hours. He said he was afraid Piper and Page would kill him if he interfered or tried to leave.
South Dakota had the death penalty when it became a state in 1889 but abolished it in 1915. Capital punishment was reinstated in 1939 but abolished again from 1977 to 1979 after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled existing death penalty laws unconstitutional. The current death penalty statute has been in place since 1979.
Other men have been sentenced to die, but Page would be the first executed in the state since 1947. Besides Page and Piper, two other men are on South Dakota's death row, but their cases are in various stages of appeal.
Even if Page's execution request is granted, he still could change his mind and let the appeals process continue.
Either way, the state is ready to carry out the death sentence warrant, said Doug Weber, director of prison operations for the South Dakota Department of Corrections.