Frequent questions

Capital Punishment

Does South Dakota law allow for capital punishment and, if so, what is the history of the death penalty in South Dakota?

Yes. South Dakota entered the union with capital punishment in 1889. In 1915, South Dakota banned the death penalty, but reinstated the practice in 1939. From 1977 to 1979, South Dakota abolished the death penalty based on the United State's Supreme Court decision in Furman v. Georgia. The death penalty was reinstated in 1979.

What is the form of execution in South Dakota?

In 1984, South Dakota law was changed to provide for death by lethal injection. It previously was to be by electrocution. From 1889 to 1915, the method of execution was by hanging.

Does South Dakota have any inmates who have been sentenced to death?

The following inmates are currently sentenced to death in South Dakota:

Charles Rhines, Pennington County, for murder;
Briley Piper, Lawrence County, for murder; and
Rodney Berget, Minnehaha County, for murder.

Has there ever been an execution in South Dakota?

Yes, according to the Cultural Heritage Center, eighteen people have been executed in this part of Dakota Territory or in the state of South Dakota since 1877:

Jack McCall was hanged at Yankton March 1, 1877 for shooting Wild Bill Hickok in Deadwood

Thomas Egan was hanged at Sioux Falls July 13, 1882 for the murder of his wife. Years later, his stepdaughter admitted to committing the crime while on her deathbed.

Brave Bear was hanged at Yankton November 15, 1882 for the murder of a pioneer settler in Sully County in 1879.

James Gilmore was hanged at Deadwood December 15, 1882 for the killing of a man on the old Fort Pierre-Deadwood trail.

James Leehman was hanged on February 19, 1892 for the murder of James H. Burns.

Nathaniel Thompson was hanged at DeSmet October 1893 for killing his wife's friend.

Jay Hicks was hanged at Sturgis December 1893 for killing and robbing a Meade County rancher.

Chief Two Sticks was hanged at Deadwood December 28, 1894 for instigating the slaying of four cowboys.

Charles Brown was hanged at Deadwood July 14, 1897 for killing and robbing a Deadwood woman.

Ernest Loveswar was hanged at Sturgis September 19, 1902 for the murder of two homesteaders.

Allen Walking Shield was hanged October 21, 1902 in Sioux Falls for the murder of a Native American woman named Ghost-Faced Bear.

George Bear was hanged at Sioux Falls December 5, 1902 for murder.

Emil Victor was hanged at Aberdeen November 16, 1909 for the murder of three people.

Joe Rickman was hanged in Perkins County in 1913 for the murder of a woman and her daughter.

George Sitts was electrocuted at Sioux Falls on April 8, 1947 for the January 24, 1946 murders of state criminal agent Thomas Matthews and Butte County Sheriff Dave Malcolm near Spearfish.

Elijah Page was executed by lethal injection in Sioux Falls on July 11, 2007 for the murder of Chester Allan Poage.

Eric Robert was executed by lethal injection in Sioux Falls on October 15, 2012 for the murder of Senior Correctional Officer Ron Johnson.

Donald Moeller was executed by lethal injection in Sioux Falls on October 30, 2012 for the murder of Becky O'Connell.

 

Where are inmates who have been sentenced to death housed?

South Dakota Codified Law (SDCL) 23A-27A-31.1 requires that such an inmate shall be segregated from other inmates at the penitentiary. No other person may be allowed access to the defendant without an order of the trial court except penitentiary staff, Department of Corrections staff, the defendant’s counsel, members of the clergy if requested by the defendant, and members of the defendant’s family. Members of the clergy and members of the defendant’s family are subject to approval by the warden before being allowed access to the defendant.
 
Male inmates sentenced to death are housed in a separate wing of the Jameson Annex of the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls.  The Jameson Annex is the maximum-security area of the Penitentiary.
Female inmates sentenced to death are housed at the South Dakota Women's Prison in Pierre. 

When and where do executions take place?

The execution of an inmate will take place within the week designated on the warrant of death sentence and execution (SDCL 23A-27A-15) which is issued by the Judge who presided over the trial.

The Warden will set the exact date and time of the execution. The time fixed by the Warden for the execution will be provided to the people invited or requested to be present at the execution. However, it is a Class 2 misdemeanor for the people invited or requested to be present to divulge such an invitation to any person or persons nor in any manner disclose the time of the execution (SDCL 23A-27A-37). Not less than forty-eight (48) hours prior to the execution, the warden will make a public announcement of the day and hour of the execution (SDCL 23A-27A-17). Prior to the Warden’s announcement, the inmate will be moved to a holding cell adjacent to the execution room at the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls. 

Who is allowed to witness an execution?

State law defines who is allowed to witness an execution.

SDCL 23A-27A-34 The warden of the penitentiary shall request, by at least two days' previous notice, the presence of the attorney general, the trial judge before whom the conviction was had or the judge's successor in office, the state's attorney and sheriff of the county where the crime was committed, representatives of the victim, at least one member of the news media, and a number of reputable adult citizens to be determined by the warden. All witnesses and persons present at an execution are subject to approval by the warden.


23A-27A-34.1 The warden shall arrange for the attendance of a person trained to examine the defendant and pronounce death and for the attendance of such penitentiary staff, Department of Corrections staff, and law enforcement officers as deemed necessary to perform the execution and maintain security.

23A-27A-34.2 The defendant is permitted to have up to five witnesses present at the execution. Witnesses for the defendant may include counsel, members of the clergy, relatives, or friends.


23A-27A-36 The warden may not permit any person to be present at the execution other than those designated in §§ 23A-27A-32, 23A-27A-34, 23A-27A-34.1, and 23A-27A-34.2 and may not permit the presence of any person under the age of eighteen years.