Tuesday night South Dakota closed the book on what could be considered one of its most gruesome murder cases—a case that spanned 22 years.
Donald Moeller, 60, was pronounced dead at 10:24 pm Tuesday at the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls. He was the second South Dakota inmate to be executed in about two weeks.
Moeller was removed from his holding cell at 9:38 pm and transferred to the table at 9:39 pm. All witnesses were present at 9:57 pm.
The Warden asked if Moeller had any last words. Moeller replied, "No sir," then asked, "They're my fan club?"
The execution proceeded at 10:01 pm. and Moeller was pronounced dead 23 minutes later.
On May 8, 1990 Moeller kidnapped Becky O'Connell, 9, in a neighborhood in sight of the State Penitentiary where Moeller spent his remaining years and died. Moeller took O'Connell south of Sioux Falls into Lincoln County near the Big Sioux River where he raped and murdered the little girl.
In 1992 Moeller was convicted of the crime he would spend the next 20 years trying to appeal. The first round of appeals started in 1996 when the South Dakota Supreme Court reversed the 1992 conviction because Moeller's previous crimes were brought up during testimony. Moeller was tried again in Pennington County.
On August 23, 1996 Moeller's counsel requested a continuance of the hearing, which the trial court denied. On December 11, 1996 prosecutors identified the focus of their case—the DNA evidence—which they planned to introduce at trial.
January 13, 1997 was the date a trial court set for a Daubert hearing to decide the admissibility of DNA evidence. The following month, Moeller's defense sought another continuance arguing they did not have enough time to review the evidence and adequately prepare. The trial court then continued the Daubert hearing to March 3, 1997.
On May 21, 1997, Moeller was convicted of rape and premeditated murder of Becky O'Connell and the same jury sentenced Moeller to death. In 2000, that jury sentence was affirmed by the South Dakota Supreme Court.
Later that year Moeller made an attempt to appeal the Supreme Court's ruling by filing for habeas corpus relief in State Circuit Court. The petition was denied, and the State Supreme Court affirmed that denial in 2004.
The proceedings of Moeller's death sentence would not stop in 2004 because in December of that year he filed for federal habeas corpus relief. Federal District Court Judge Lawrence Piersol denied Moeller's federal relief six years later.
Moeller petitioned for rehearing and his request for a rehearing en banc, in which his case could be heard before the judges of the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. The court denied the petition in November 2011.
On June 4, 2012 the United State Supreme Court affirmed Moeller's conviction and a month later a Warrant for Execution hearing was set.
It was not until the October 2012 when Moeller revealed he was guilty of raping and murdering Becky O'Connell. It happened during a federal court appearance where an Arkansas-based public defender was appealing South Dakota's one-drug method of lethal injection. During that appearance Moeller told the judge, "I want to pay what I owe. I believe the death penalty is just in this case."
There were two more attempts in October to stay Moeller's execution. One attempt came from Moeller's step-sister and the other came from her attorney. Both petitions were denied, leading to the last chapter of a case that reached into three decades and a result the murderer himself finally came to terms with.
"It's time. If the rape and murder of Rebecca O'Connell does not deserve the death penalty, then I guess nothing does," Moeller said.
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