South Dakota set to execute two on death row – Robert due next week; Moeller wants his lawyers dismissed


October 9, 2012 http://www.argusleader.com

State Department of Corrections officials gave media representatives a tour Tuesday of the execution chamber and holding cell where death row inmates Eric Robert and Donald Moeller will live out the last minutes of their lives later this month.

Robert, 50, has pleaded guilty to the 2011 murder of corrections officer Ron Johnson and is scheduled to die by lethal injection sometime next week. Moeller, 60, was twice convicted of rape and murder in the 1990 death of Becky O’Connell and is scheduled to be executed the week of Oct. 28-Nov. 3.

Though Moeller’s execution date has been set, U.S. District Judge Larry Piersol still has to decide on Moeller’s request to cease any further action on a constitutional challenge to the state’s execution method by injection. The judge’s decision on the matter is expected any day.

Arkansas lawyers appointed at the federal level to represent Moeller want to continue with the challenge and have asked Piersol to find that Moeller isn’t competent to make decisions in his case. On Tuesday, Moeller sent a letter to Piersol reiterating that he wants the Arkansas lawyers removed as his counsel.

Also Tuesday, media representatives shot photographs and video in what inmates call the old hospital section of the state penitentiary.

The death chamber is a square room with a table in the middle that sits on a cylindrical metal pedestal.

A white mattress rests on the table with armrests to each side. Four leather straps are draped across the mattress for now, and there are leather straps on the armrests and at the foot of the mattress.

There are two windows on each of the west and north walls with blinds closed over them Tuesday. There are four separate offices on the other sides of the windows from which witnesses will watch the execution. Red letters above each window designate them as “A,” “B,” “C” and “D.”

A one-way mirrored window on the east wall hides what prison officials call “the chemical room” on the other side. There are four digital clocks in the execution chamber — each gives the time, the date and the temperature in the room. A long, black rod hangs down from the ceiling over the mattress with a microphone attached to it.

Just east of the execution chamber are three holding cells where Robert and Moeller will be housed before their executions.

Each cell has a toilet, a sink and a bed, as well as a white cabinet with three, open shelves that sits just to the right as you enter.

State statute allows the court to set the week of a scheduled execution, then leaves it to the warden to set a specific day and time depending on the needs of the institution and execution requirements, said Corrections spokesman Michael Winder.

The last inmate to be executed in South Dakota, Elijah Page, was put to death July 11, 2007, at the state penitentiary in Sioux Falls

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