Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Sioux Falls lawmaker changes mind on death penalty, wants to see it repealed

PIERRE — A state lawmaker who previously supported the death penalty says he will ask the 2014 South Dakota Legislature to repeal capital punishment.

Rep. Steve Hickey, R-Sioux Falls, who also is a pastor, said he changed his mind about the death penalty after reviewing the Bible. He said he also believes it does not deter people from committing horrible crimes, save money or improve public safety.

Hickey said his bill would apply only to future cases.

The lawmaker also said he believes life in a cramped prison cell can be a more severe punishment than executing murderers by quietly putting them to sleep with drugs.

“There is an existence worse than death,” Hickey said. “If you really want to take away someone’s life, then take away their life but not their breath.”

South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley said he will oppose Hickey’s bill because he believes the death penalty is appropriate for the most vile crimes and is used sparingly in South Dakota. He said it deters crime and particularly protects prison staff, other inmates and medical personnel from convicted murderers housed in prison.

“There is a place for capital punishment. It’s a very limited place,” Jackley said. “Our prosecutors, our juries and our judges have used it very sparingly, only for the most egregious and appropriate cases.”

Hickey said he doesn’t want to reopen old cases, so his bill would not change the death sentences faced by the three convicts currently on death row. They are: Charles Russell Rhines, convicted of the 1992 slaying of a man during the burglary of a Rapid City doughnut shop; Briley Piper, convicted of the 2000 killing of a man near Spearfish; and Rodney Berget, convicted of the 2011 killing of a prison guard during a botched escape attempt.

“The other thing that changed my mind on this is I saw a list of the nations that kill people,” Hickey said. “We’re on this list of about 10 of the worst nations on Earth. It’s the wrong group to be in,” Hickey said.

Source: AP, December 10, 2013