Capital punishment in South Dakota

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Capital punishment is legal in the U.S. state of South Dakota.

Current development[edit]

South Dakota Legislature passed a new death penalty statute, which went to effect due to signature of Governor Bill Janklow (first act he signed in office) on January 1, 1979.[1]

Crimes punishable by death[edit]

First-degree murder with 1 of 10 aggravating circumstances is the only capital crime in South Dakota.[2][3] In 2006 possible death sentence for aggravated kidnapping was eliminated.[2]

Sentencing, death row, and clemency[edit]

Death sentence is to be determined by jury and Life Without Parole is an option.[1]

As in any other state, people who are under 18 at the time of commission of the capital crime [4] or mentally retarded[5] are constitutionally precluded from being executed.

Currently three men are awaiting execution on death row (as of November 2012), located in Sioux Falls.[1]

Governor may grant commutation of death sentence with a non-binding recommendation from the Board. As of 2008 no commutation was granted.[6]

Method of execution[edit]

Lethal injection is the sole method of execution in South Dakota.[7]

Individuals executed by the State of South Dakota since 1976[edit]

As of October 2012, only three people have been executed by the State of South Dakota in modern post-Furman period; two of those cases were voluntary. The death sentence was administered by lethal injection.[8]

Executed person Race Date of execution Crime Victim(s) Under Governor
1 Elijah Page White July 11, 2007 First Degree Murder Chester Allan Poage Mike Rounds
2 Eric Robert White October 15, 2012 First Degree Murder Correctional officer Ronald "RJ" Johnson Dennis Daugaard
3 Donald Moeller White October 30, 2012 First Degree Murder Becky O'Connell


South Dakota executed 15 men between 1877 and 1947. The first was Jack McCall, killer of Wild Bill Hickok. Four of these executions were prior to Statehood, 11 since.[9][10]

Abolition, reintroduction, and methods of executions[edit]

Hanging was the only method used until 1913, when death penalty was temporary abolished in 1915.[9][11]

The death penalty was, however, reinstated in 1933 and electric chair became sole method.[11] Only one person was electrocuted in South Dakota (George Sitts, 1947) and this was the last execution until Page. South Dakota was second-to-last state to use electrocution.[12]

There were speculations that George Sitts was executed by borrowed electric chair from Nebraska due to problems with South Dakota own chair. This claim remains unproven and challenged.[13]

Pre-Furman executions[edit]

Between 1877 and 1915, 14 individuals were executed in South Dakota. All were executed by hanging.

Executed person Date of execution Crime Under Governor
Jack McCall 1 March 1877 murder of Wild Bill Hickok John L. Pennington
Thomas Egan 13 July 1882 murder of his wife, Mary Nehemiah G. Ordway
Brave Bear 1 November 1882 murder of Joseph Johnson
James Gilmore 15 December 1882 murder of Bisente Ortez
James B. Lehman February 19, 1892 murder of Constable John Burns Arthur C. Mellette
Nathaniel Thompson January 20, 1893 murder of Electa Blighton Charles H. Sheldon
Jay Hicks November 15, 1894 murder and robbery of John Meyer
Chief Two Sticks 28 December 1894 instigating four murders
Charles Brown 14 July 1897 murder and robbery of Emma Stone Andrew E. Lee
Ernest Loveswar 19 September 1902 murders of George Puck and George Ostrander Charles N. Herreid
Allen Walkingshield January 15, 1902 murder of Mrs. Ghost-Faced Bear
George Bear 5 December 1902 murder of C. Edward Tayloe and John Shaw
Emil Victor 16 November 1909 murder of Mr. and Mrs. James Christie, daughter Mildred and Michael Ronayne Robert S. Vessey
Joe Rickman December 3, 1913 murder of Ellen Fox and her 14-year-old daughter, Mildred Fox Frank M. Byrne

After reintroduction of the death penalty, until post-Furman era, one person was executed:

Inmate Date Method Crime Under Governor
George Sitts April 8, 1947 electric chair Murder of special state agent Thomas Matthews. He also killed Butte Co. Sheriff Dave Malcolm, but was not separately tried for that murder. George T. Mickelson

See also[edit]