(Note: strong language in seventh paragraph)
By David Bailey
(Reuters) - A man convicted of the 1990 rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl was put to death on Tuesday night in a South Dakota execution witnessed by the victim’s parents, who drove 1,400 miles from their New York home to watch him die.
Donald Moeller, 60, had professed his innocence for more than two decades before finally admitting in early October that he had raped and fatally stabbed Becky O‘Connell after abducting her from a Sioux Falls convenience store where she had gone to buy candy.
Moeller was pronounced dead by lethal injection at 10:24 p.m. local time at the state prison in Sioux Falls, according to the state corrections department. He was the second convicted killer put to death in South Dakota this month, but only the fourth since 1913.
O‘Connell’s mother, Tina Curl, and her stepfather, Dave Curl, drove from their home in Lake Luzerne, New York, to witness Moeller’s execution.
Photographs of Becky at age 9 and a portrait of what she might have looked like at age 32 were displayed by the Curls at a news conference following the execution and posted by the Argus Leader newspaper on its website.
“He will no longer take another breath or hurt another child,” Dave Curl said of Moeller, adding that the execution would never give them closure, though there was some feeling of relief.
“Everyone keeps telling us to make this about Becky. There is no Becky because of Donald Moeller,” Curl said. “Whether right or wrong, we will hate that son-of-a-bitch until the day we die. May he rot in hell.”
According to court records, he had repeatedly raped and stabbed the girl. Her body was found in a wooded area with extensive knife wounds the morning after she vanished.
Moeller was convicted of rape and murder and sentenced to death in 1992, but was granted a new trial after the state Supreme Court ruled that testimony of previous attempted sexual assaults on three other people was inadmissible.
He was convicted and sentenced again in 1997 but continued appeals until recent weeks, when he halted further efforts to seek a reprieve and admitted to the crimes in a hearing in early October.
“If the rape and murder of Rebecca O‘Connell does not deserve the death penalty, then I guess nothing does,” he told the judge.
Moeller ate a last meal of scrambled eggs, sausage links, tater tots and drip coffee, the corrections department said.
When asked whether he had any last words before his execution, Moeller replied, “No, sir,” then asked, “They’re my fan club?” in apparent reference to the witnesses for the execution.
Executions have been rare in South Dakota. Before this year, the state had put to death only two inmates since 1913. On October 15, it executed Eric Robert for the killing of prison guard Ron Johnson during a failed escape attempt.
Moeller was the 34th inmate executed in the United States in 2012, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
Reporting by David Bailey; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Lisa Shumaker