By the end of this month, the state of South Dakota will carry out the death penalty...twice. How does a governor go about making the decision to allow an execution to proceed? And should the state of South Dakota be killing criminals in the first place?
Currently, five men await execution on South Dakota's death row. Within the next 21 days, two men will be put to death. Next week, Eric Robert will be put to death for the murder of corrections officer Ronald Johnson. And then two weeks after that, Donald Moeller...for the rape and murder of Becky O'Connell. When it comes to the death penalty, a governor can hold a lot of sway and power in the process. It is the governor who could intervene and stop the death penalty from being carried out...it is also the governor who ultimately has to stand behind the decision to put someone to death. The last time the state carried out the death penalty was in July of 2007, when Elijah Page was put to death for the murder of Chester Allen Poage. Page was put to death during the second term of former governor Mike Rounds, who we sat down with earlier today.
"The possibilities of individuals who have killed once getting out or even from within prison killing again...as we know unfortunately is a possibility....and its happened in South Dakota. For that reason the death penalty will continue to be a viable option...unfortunately." It is the ultimate final decision: giving the go ahead for a convicted killer to be put to death. Five years ago, Governor Mike Rounds gave that go ahead and allowed murderer Elijah Page to be put to death. But the idea of capital punishment always opens the door to a lot of tough questions: Should the state kill killers? Rounds tells me, in a perfect world....no....there would not be capital punishment. "We don't live in a perfect world. The next best options that we've got are to do what we can to protect society from those who would do us harm and that means looking at incarceration, but even when we incarcerate individuals there is still a possibility that if they can they will kill again. They've proven they would kill once. So when we start talking about protection and about the possibility of saving lives, which do we side on and that is to protect the innocent."
Rounds is a man of faith and in our sit down interview with him, we asked him how he reconciles his personal religious beliefs with the law of the land here in South Dakota....laws which allow the state to execute criminals it believes to be chronic dangers to society. "I think there was an appropriate struggle within me. I think its one that goes anytime that you're involved with the execution of another human being. when you are in a process, a legal process of taking a life, if you make a mistake you can't go back and do it over again."
Rounds tells me that repeated times during the years, the idea of repealing the death penalty has made it's way to the capitol in Pierre.....and every time, lawmakers have backed capital punishment. And he says the ultimate power involving the death penalty lies in the hands of South Dakotans...when they serve on juries...and make the decision to ultimately send someone to prison for life....or to end their life. "Is this correct? Is the law being executed correctly? In my role as the governor, was I doing the right thing in continuing forward with the execution? After a great deal of thought, I decided that yes, it was appropriate."
And we asked rounds to comment on Governor Dennis Daugaard's unwillingness to make any type of public comment on the death penalty. KSFY has specifically asked the governor's office to comment on Daugaard's thoughts on South Dakota's capital punishment policy...and we have been told...no comment. Rounds says...nothing should be read into Daugaard's decision not to talk.. "If the governor says I want to take my time. I want to work this thing through. I'll do my own due diligence on this, I am not going to publicly discuss it at this point, then he has a very good reason for doing so."
I asked Rounds if in the five years since he gave the go ahead for Elijah Page to be executed...if he has ever second guessed himself or questioned if he made the right decision. Rounds tells me he revisits the decision often but always comes to the same conclusion...that he did the right thing.
2012 KSFY News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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