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Eye On Boise

Otter: ‘Law requires and justice demands that Mr. Rhoades be held accountable’

Idaho's Commission on Pardons and Parole, which has been studying the case of Death Row inmate Paul Ezra Rhoades for the past two weeks, met Friday morning in executive session, as required by law, to deliberate on a petition from Rhoades and his attorneys for commutation of his death sentence. "Their decision was to deny setting a commutation hearing," said Olivia Craven, executive director of the commission. The commission's decision was delivered to Idaho Gov. Butch Otter today.

If the commission had agreed to hold a hearing, the governor would have 30 days to decide whether to commute the sentence. But because that didn't happen, the clock is still ticking, and Rhoades' scheduled Nov. 18 execution date is still on. It would be only Idaho's third execution since the 1950s, and the first since 1994. Rhoades was sentenced to death for the 1987 murders of Susan Michelbacher and Stacy Baldwin in eastern Idaho; he also was convicted of a third murder there; click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Gov. Otter is the only one who can commute the death sentence. It's happened once before; in 1996, then-Gov. Phil Batt agreed with the recommendation of the commission and commuted the sentence of Donald Paradis from death to life without parole amid questions about his original conviction; Paradis later was released in 2001, after pleading guilty to being an accessory to murder.

Otter, a supporter of the death penalty, issued this statement today: “Paul Ezra Rhoades has taken full and unfettered advantage of his right to due process of law for more than two decades. That process is running its course. The law requires and justice demands that Mr. Rhoades be held accountable for his actions as a judge and jury have directed. I appreciate the Commission of Pardons and Parole carrying out its statutory duty respectfully and professionally.”

Commission: No clemency for condemned Idaho inmate
By REBECCA BOONE, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Commission of Pardons and Parole says it won't consider a clemency request from condemned inmate Paul Ezra Rhoades, who is scheduled to die by lethal injection Nov. 18.

Rhoades was sentenced to death for the murders of Susan Michelbacher and Stacy Baldwin in 1987, and he was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Nolan Haddon the same year.

Commission director Olivia Craven said the panel decided Friday to deny Rhoades' request for a clemency hearing. Under Idaho law, only the governor has the authority to grant clemency on death penalty cases, but in order for the governor to do so, the parole commission must first consider the request and make a recommendation to the governor.

Craven said she met personally with Rhoades and his attorneys Oct. 14 to answer any questions they had about the clemency process. Inmates are only allowed to petition for clemency once every 12 months, and so she wanted to make sure Rhoades had all the information he needed, Craven said. The commissioners spent the last couple of weeks reviewing Rhoades' case before making the decision, she said.

"They take this very seriously. They put in a lot of their personal time, and I know they spent a lot of time reviewing everything over and over," Craven said. "So, their decision was not made lightly."

Defense attorneys called the decision disappointing and criticized the board for acting without taking the opportunity to get a fuller picture of Rhoades' story from witnesses. Rhoades' lawyers planned to have witnesses recount his addiction to methamphetamine and what the drug did to his behavior — details not shared with judges who sentenced him to death.

"We maintain the Commission is making a grave and irreversible mistake by relying primarily on a paper record," according to a statement issued Monday by the federal defender's office in Boise. "It is shameful that Mr. Rhoades will not have an opportunity to present his entire case and show that the man he is today is not someone whom society would want to put to death."

There is still a possibility that a federal judge could issue a stay of execution. Rhoades sued Idaho in federal court last month over the state's method of execution, but as of Monday afternoon, no stay had been ordered.

If the execution goes forward, Rhoades will be only the second Idaho inmate to be put to death since 1957, and the first one during that time to exhaust all his appeals. The last inmate to be executed, Keith Wells in 1994, gave up all of his remaining appeals and asked the state to carry out his lethal injection.

Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter said in a prepared statement that he appreciated the commissioners for carrying out their statutory duty "respectfully and professionally."

"Paul Ezra Rhoades has taken full and unfettered advantage of his right of due process of law for more than two decades," Otter said. "That process is running its course. The law requires and justice demands that Mr. Rhoades be held accountable for his actions as a judge and jury have directed."

So far, Otter has received about 17 letters about Rhoades' case since his death warrant was signed, Otter's spokesman Jon Hanian said. Most of them — including letters from the Pope's U.S. representative, Monsignor Jean-Francois Lantheaume; the head of the European Union's delegation to the U.S.; and the ambassador of Switzerland to the U.S. — urged Otter to stop Rhoades' execution. A few were in favor of Rhoades being put to death, saying the heinousness of his crimes merited the ultimate punishment.

Idaho Catholic Bishop Michael Driscoll also wrote Otter a letter asking him to commute Rhoades' sentence to life in prison without parole. Driscoll told the governor, who is Catholic, that while he didn't condone Rhoades' crimes, Catholic teachings on the death penalty make it clear that executions shouldn't take place when other means can protect society from criminals.

A Facebook group called Idahoans against the Death Penalty is also arranging protests, vigils and letter-writing campaigns on Rhoades' behalf. The organizer of that group did not immediately return an email from The Associated Press.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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