BOISE - Triple murderer Paul Ezra Rhoades was executed this morning despite repeated last-minute appeals, in Idaho’s first execution since 1994 and only its second since 1957.
“The execution of Paul Ezra Rhoades has been carried out in the manner that was prescribed by law in the state of Idaho,” state Corrections Director Brent Reinke said. “Death of the prisoner was pronounced at 9:15 a.m.”
In his final words, Rhoades took responsibility for one of the murders, but not the other two. A friend of the family of one of the victims, who was in the chamber witnessing the execution, said, “The devil has gone home.”
Another family member commented, “What a coward.”
Unlike the last person executed in Idaho, double murderer Keith Eugene Wells, who dropped all appeals and asked to be put to death, Rhoades pursued every appeal possible, including a last-ditch appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court the night before his execution. None worked.
Rhoades earlier admitted his crimes, which terrorized an eastern Idaho community for three weeks in 1987. His appeals have focused mostly on technicalities and on his abusive childhood and drug addiction. He said he had changed in his quarter-century in prison. He also challenged Idaho’s lethal-injection execution method as cruel.
Rhoades received the death sentence for the kidnappings and murders of 34-year-old Susan Michelbacher and 21-year-old Stacy Dawn Baldwin in 1987. He also was sentenced to life in prison without parole for the 1987 murder of 20-year-old Nolan Haddon, to which he pleaded guilty.
Associated Press reporter Rebecca Boone, who witnessed the execution, said Rhoades, after apologizing for the Michelbacher murder, said to the families of his other two victims, “I can’t help you guys, sorry.”
She said a family member of one of the victims said, “He’s been lying the whole way through.”
Rhoades, lying on his back strapped to a gurney with IVs running to deliver the drugs that would kill him, said, “‘Mom, goodbye,’ then he turned and faced the warden, Randy Blades, and said, ‘You guys, I forgive you, I really do,’” Boone reported.
ABC Channel 6 reporter Mac King said, “The whole thing was incredibly sterile, with the exception of his statement. Everyone was really professional.” King said there were “some tears” from the victims’ families. King was among four reporters who witnessed the execution on behalf of the public.
About 45 people gathered in a circle in the freezing darkness outside Idaho’s state prison complex early in the morning to protest capital punishment, as the clock ticked toward the time for Rhoades to die by lethal injection.
“This is a heartbreaking morning,” said Mia Crosthwaite of Idahoans Against the Death Penalty.
Reinke, asked about Rhoades’ demeanor prior to the execution proceedings, said, “He’s very serious. He understands what is about to happen. His spiritual adviser and his attorney have been with him throughout the night.”
Addressing the media in the chill of the early morning, Reinke said, “The law requires and justice demands that Mr. Rhoades be held accountable. … Today we carry out the execution order.”
All Idaho state prisons, statewide, were on lockdown and high alert during the execution proceedings, Reinke said.
Tom Moss, who prosecuted Rhoades in 1987 and later served as U.S. attorney for Idaho, said after the execution, “Nothing brings total justice. They don’t get their loved ones back. But it brings some satisfaction to them.”
He said, “I’ve often said I don’t think I will live to see anybody executed. So there’s a certain amount of closure to see one of ‘em get executed. … There is satisfaction to see finally the law comes to its conclusion, it’s done. These families don’t have to read any more in the paper about there’s something going on with Paul Rhoades. … This case is closed.”