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South Dakota Carries Out First Execution in 60 Years

Elijah Page pleaded guilty to his role for the March 2000 slaying of Chester Allan Poage, thinking he would avoid the death penalty and spend the rest of life in prison.

Instead, he willingly went to his death Wednesday.

And, though friends and relatives said the 25-year-old was remorseful, he maintained his public silence to the end, which ultimately came quickly.

Page was executed at the South Dakota State Penitentiary Wednesday night, the first in 60 years.

Warden Doug Weber, who stood to the right of Page's head throughout the execution, asked if he had any last words.

"No," Page replied.

"Do I understand you to say that you have no last words?" Weber pressed.

"Yes, no last words."

Then seconds later, as the room was silent, three drugs were injected that rendered him unconscious, stopped his breathing and then his heart. Page's chest heaved a couple of times, he let out a few gasps that sounded like snores, and was silent. His eyes were closed and within minutes, his skin started to turn color.

Nine minutes after the first injection, an emergency medical technician declared Page dead.

"I have no breathing. I have no heartbeat. The time is 10:11," the unidentified EMT said.

Dr. Brad Randall, the Minnehaha County coroner, accompanied the EMT and made the official certification of death. An autopsy was planned for Thursday morning, as it is done with all inmates who die, he said.

Page pleaded guilty to killing Chester Allan Poage, 19, of Spearfish, who was -- over three hours -- stabbed, beaten with rocks and forced to drink hydrochloric acid.

Last year, Page gave up his court appeals and requested to die.

That was supposed to happen in August. But Gov. Mike Rounds postponed it over concerns about a conflict in state law that has since been changed.

Page is among a handful of people his age or younger put to death since capital punishment was reinstated in the United States in 1979. His case also is unusual because a judge, not a jury, imposed a death sentence -- and he asked to die.

Page, who was entitled to appeals that could have lasted many more years, still had the legal right to resume those petitions even moments before the execution.

Page's regular visitors included attorney Mike Butler and family members.

"I love him with all my heart," Page's father, Kenneth Chapman of Texas, said before the execution Wednesday.

Page wore an orange prison jumpsuit. Leather straps bound his body and arms, and a sheet covered the lower half of his body. Page had intravenous tubes in both arms.

"He blinked but he showed no emotion whatsoever," said media witness Bill Harlan, a reporter with the Rapid City Journal.

"It was very clinical. It was a very bright room," he said.

Dottie Poage, the victim's mother, said she was proud of the prosecutor, the state, the penitentiary staff and the governor.

"Elijah Page had the ultimate penalty for the ultimate crime," she said. "I'm proud to be an American."

Lawrence County State's Attorney John Fitzgerald, the prosecutor in the Page case, said justice has been served.

"Mr. Page has paid with his life for the crimes he committed," Fitzgerald said. "His debt to the state of South Dakota is now paid in full."

Death penalty protesters, far outnumbering supporters, gathered outside the penitentiary, displaying signs with sayings such as "Choose life for Page" and "End the death penalty."

Two death penalty supporters' signs said "Justice" and "Remember Chester."

Besides Page, Briley Piper, 25, of Anchorage, Alaska, also pleaded guilty to killing Poage and was sentenced to death. A third man, Darrell Hoadley, 26, of Lead, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

According to testimony, the three killed Poage so there would be no other witness to the theft of a Chevy Blazer, stereo, television, coin collection, video game and other items from Poage's home in Spearfish.

Dottie Poage said she took her children to church and taught them faith, morals and trust. She said her son came across three people that he wanted to be friends with. "Who would ever do something like this to a friend?" she said.

"He was already looking up to God when he was young. God maybe even knew then that Chester would be taken at an early age."

Rick Mowell, Lawrence County sheriff, said Poage's death was the most violent, tortuous death he has seen in his 35 years of law enforcement.

The last person execution in South Dakota was April 8, 1947. George Sitts was electrocuted in Sioux Falls for the Jan. 24, 1946, slayings of state criminal agent Thomas Matthews and Butte County Sheriff Dave Malcolm near Spearfish.

For his last meal, Page requested steak, jalapeno poppers, onion rings, a salad, lemon iced tea, coffee and ice cream.

Besides Piper, South Dakota's death row includes Charles Rhines and Donald Moeller.