November 18, 2011 / 5:06 PM / in 6 years

Idaho executes first convicted killer in 17 years

SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - A man convicted of abducting and murdering two Idaho women in 1987 was put to death on Friday by lethal injection in the state’s first execution in 17 years, prison officials said.

Paul Ezra Rhoades, 54, was executed at 9:15 a.m. local time at the Idaho Maximum Security Institution in Boise, the state capital, with his mother and sister and victims’ relatives among those in attendance, Idaho Department of Correction director Brent Reinke told Reuters.

The death sentence was carried out after the U.S. Supreme Court denied an 11th-hour bid for a stay that Rhoades’ lawyers sought while challenging execution procedures they claimed might breach constitutional prohibitions on cruel and unusual punishment.

A jury found Rhoades guilty in 1988 of first-degree murder, kidnapping and rape in the 1987 shooting death of Susan Michelbacher, a 34-year-old teacher abducted from a supermarket parking lot in Idaho Falls.

Also in 1988, a separate jury convicted Rhoades of first-degree murder and kidnapping in the death of Stacy Baldwin, 21, a convenience store clerk in Blackfoot. Rhoades drove Baldwin to a secluded area and shot her when she resisted his attack and tried to flee, legal records show.

Idaho judges sentenced Rhoades to death in both cases. He also was sentenced to life in prison for the slaying in 1987 of an Idaho man, Nolan Haddon.

Rhoades apologized for killing Michelbacher, but denied responsibility for the Haddon and Baldwin murders, said a media witness from the Idaho Falls Post Register who attended the execution.

“I‘m sorry for the part I played in your wife’s death,” Rhoades told Bert Michelbacher, who was at the execution.

“For Haddon and Baldwin, I can’t help you. You still have to keep looking. I‘m sorry for your family. I can’t help you. I took part in the Michelbacher murder. I can’t help you guys, I‘m sorry,” he said.

After a long pause, he looked at his mother and said, “Goodbye, Mom.”

Rhoades was “anxious and lucid” in the days leading up to his execution, prison officials said. He was served a last meal that included hot dogs, baked beans and strawberry ice cream.

A state parole panel last week denied Rhoades’ request for a clemency hearing. In Idaho, condemned prisoners can be granted clemency by the governor if recommended by the panel.

Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter said in a statement that Rhoades had taken “full and unfettered advantage of his right to due process for more than two decades” and that Rhoades was held accountable for his actions.

Rhoades became the first person executed in Idaho since 1994, when condemned killer Keith Eugene Wells was put to death by lethal injection. The last execution prior to that occurred in 1957, and was carried out by hanging.

The state Department of Correction says Rhoades is the 28th person executed in Idaho since 1864, the year after it became a U.S. territory. Idaho was granted statehood in 1890.

Rhoades’ body will be cremated and the remains given to his attorney, Oliver Loewy of the Federal Defender Services of Idaho, according to the Department of Correction.

There have been 43 executions in the United States this year, including Rhoades, according to figures from the Death Penalty Information Center.

He was the fourth condemned inmate put to death this week, after executions in Ohio, Florida and Texas.

Editing by Steve Gorman, Alex Dobuzinskis and Greg McCune

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