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South Dakota to conduct its first execution in 60 years

The state of South Dakota is preparing for its first execution in 60 years, nearly a year after the governor delayed an execution over legal concerns about the lethal injection mixture prison officials planned to use.

Elijah Page, 25, is scheduled to be put to death next week. He has ended all appeals and asked to die for the brutal March 2000 murder of Chester Allan Poage, 19.

Gov. Mike Rounds postponed Page's planned Aug. 29, 2006, execution over concerns that a 1984 state law requiring the use of a two-drug mixture in executions could put prison officials at legal risk if they instead administered a three-drug combination that has become standard in lethal injection executions.

In February, state lawmakers amended the law to allow prison officials to use whatever lethal injection mixture they choose, clearing the way for the executions of Page and the state's three other death row inmates to proceed.

Page's execution is set for the week of July 9. State law prevents the exact date and time of execution to be released until 48 hours before.

Mike Butler, Page's attorney, said the governor and the state Supreme Court chief justice have assured him that if Page wants to call off the execution even moments before to restart the appeals process, his verbal request will be honored. Butler, who plans to watch the execution, said he won't restart the appeals process unless Page directs him to.

"Truly the matter rests in Mr. Page's hands at this point," he said.

Butler said he has met with Page weekly but his client will not give any interviews.

Besides being the first person executed in South Dakota in 60 years, Page would be among a handful of people his age or younger put to death since capital punishment was reinstated in 1979. His case also is unusual because a judge, not a jury, imposed a death sentence - and he has asked to die.

South Dakota had the death penalty when it became a state in 1889 but abolished it in 1915. Capital punishment was reinstated in 1939 but abolished again from 1977 to 1979 after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled existing death penalty laws unconstitutional.

Another death penalty statute has been in place since 1979. The cases of Piper and the state's two other death row inmates, Charles Rhines and Donald Moeller, are in various stages of appeal.

In all, South Dakota has had 15 recorded executions, with the first four occurring before statehood.

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