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Triple murderer executed in Idaho

About 45 people gathered in prayer Friday morning outside the gates of Idaho’s state prison complex south of Boise to show their opposition to capital punishment. (BETSY Z. RUSSELL)
About 45 people gathered in prayer Friday morning outside the gates of Idaho’s state prison complex south of Boise to show their opposition to capital punishment. (BETSY Z. RUSSELL)

Rhoades killed three in eastern part of state in 1987

BOISE – Triple murderer Paul Rhoades was executed Friday 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 that he previously said he committed.

“The devil has gone home,” said one witness, a family member of one of the victims.

Another family member commented, “What a coward.”

Unlike the last person executed in Idaho, double murderer Keith Eugene Wells, who quit fighting his sentence, Rhoades pursued every appeal possible, including a last-ditch plea to the U.S. Supreme Court the night before his execution.

Rhoades’ crimes 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, told the families of his other two victims, “I can’t help you guys, sorry.”

Rhoades was strapped to a gurney and hooked up to IVs to deliver the fatal drugs. Boone reported that Rhoades said, “Mom, goodbye,” before turning to warden Randy Blades and saying, “You guys, I forgive you, I really do.”

Mac King, a reporter for ABC Channel 6, called the situation “incredibly sterile, with the exception of his statement. Everyone was really professional.”

King, one of the four reporters to witness the execution, said there were “some tears” from the victims’ families.

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 Cros-thwaite of Idahoans Against the Death Penalty.

Reinke, asked about Rhoades’ demeanor leading up to the execution, 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.”

Speaking to 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 prisons were on lockdown and high alert during the 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 them get executed. … There is satisfaction to see finally the law comes to its conclusion, it’s done. These families don’t have to read anymore in the paper about there’s something going on with Paul Rhoades. … This case is closed.”

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