It’s possible South Dakota could execute three men before Thanksgiving this year.
Attorney General Marty Jackley has asked that Eric Robert be put to death the week of Oct. 14. Convicted murderer Donald Moeller’s execution already has been set to occur during the last week of October or early November.
And an execution date could be set in upcoming weeks for Rodney Berget, who is on death row with Robert for killing corrections officer Ronald Johnson.
No matter what your view of the death penalty, some sobering weeks lie ahead here.
Traditionally, a representative from the news media is allowed to witness an execution. The Corrections Department decides who that will be. The death of Elijah Page in 2007 was witnessed by two reporters – one from the Rapid City Journal and one from the Associated Press.
The Argus Leader will apply once again to witness these upcoming executions. They are important events to chronicle.
Our former city editor, Jeff Martin, witnessed an execution while working at the Tulsa World. In August, 2006, he wrote an account of what he had seen.
Here’s an excerpt:
In the moments before witnessing an execution, the sights and the sounds rain down on the senses.
And the rituals of death are seared into memory:
The rhythmic pounding and kicking of steel cell doors, a traditional show of respect as the inmate is led to the chamber;
The condemned man’s last words, barely audible over a prison microphone that hardly works;
His chest, heaving violently as a final burst of air rushes from the lungs.
The images are as vivid now as they were five years ago on a surreal autumn night inside H Unit, death row at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary.
Several steps in the march toward death are universal. In 37 states, the method is the same: Injection, a process developed with advice from a University of Oklahoma doctor in 1977. Northern states still learn how to carry out executions from southern states such as Texas and Oklahoma, where death is now routine.
Unless there’s a last-minute reprieve, life will end for Elijah Page in Sioux Falls the same way it did for Alvie “Jim” Hale in Oklahoma on Oct. 18, 2001.
I don’t know if Jeff volunteered to witness that execution. I hope so.
In my opinion, it’s not a story assignment an editor would make lightly.