South Dakota killer wants to drop death sentence appeals

Monday, August 28, 2006

A 24-year-old Texas man is set to be the first person executed in South Dakota in 59 years after asking to fire his lawyer and drop further court appeals.

Elijah Page of Athens, Texas, may die by lethal injection tomorrow for the brutal murder of Chester Poage, 19, in Higgins Gulch, in the Black Hills region of South Dakota.

The court will weigh whether or not Page is competent to fire his lawyers and drop appeals, and a decision is expected today.

Page, along with Briley Piper, 25, of Anchorage, Alaska, pleaded guilty in 2001 for the March 13, 2000, killing. Both were sentenced to death. A third man, Darrell Hoadley, 26, of Lead, S.D., also pleaded guilty and testified against Page and Piper. He was sentenced to life in prison.

Hoadley told prosecutors the men planned to steal a stereo, TV, and other items from Poage's mother's house. Prosecutors said Piper and Page killed Poage because they wanted to eliminate a witness to the theft.

Hoadley described brutal details to authorities how Piper stabbed Poage three times in the head and neck and Page then kicked Poage 30 to 40 times and then tore Poage's ears off. Page then bashed Poage's head in with large rocks. Hoadley finished the job by striking Poage with two large rocks.

Piper and Page then threatened to kill Hoadley if he told police about the crime, Hoadley told authorities.

Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said it is rare for someone to receive a death sentence after they've pleaded guilty to the crime. But in this case, the judge, Warren Johnson of Deadwood, opted for the death penalty, saying he considered the crime to be "vile and depraved".