A South Dakota House committee endorsed a plan Wednesday aimed at preventing
death-row inmates from filing repeated appeals in an effort to delay their
Although the limits would apply to all serious criminal cases, Attorney General
Marty Jackley said the limits are especially needed in death penalty cases. 2
men convicted and sentenced to death two decades ago have avoided execution
because their appeals are still proceeding through the courts, he said.
Murder victims' families should not have to wait 20 years to see a death
sentence carried out, Jackley said.
"It doesn't end," Jackley said. "It's time to give a fair resolution, but a
timely resolution for victims."
People convicted of crimes in South Dakota can appeal their convictions to the
state Supreme Court.
Under the bill, convicts who lose a first direct appeal usually could file only
one secondary appeal. State law currently puts no limit on those secondary
appeals, called habeus corpus petitions. Those petitions generally argue that a
convict's constitutional rights were violated, and they often contend the
person's previous lawyers made mistakes.
The bill would limit convicts to one secondary appeal, unless new evidence is
discovered or an appeals court recognizes a new constitutional right that would
apply to the case. Those secondary appeals also would have to be filed within
two years of when the first direct appeal was decided or new evidence was
"At some point, there needs to be finality. I would suggest this would give it
fair and reasonable finality," Jackley said.
The bill would apply to all people convicted of serious crimes, but South
Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley says the limits are particularly needed
in cases where murderers have been sentenced to death.
The attorney general said the bill's limits on secondary appeals are the same
as those applied in 31 other states and the federal court system. If those
limits were in place in South Dakota, an execution could probably take place
within five to 10 years after a conviction, he said.
Ed and Peggy Schaeffer, whose son Donnivan was killed during a 1992 burglary of
a Rapid City doughnut shop, told lawmakers to adopt the changes. Peggy
Schaeffer said the man convicted and sentenced to death for her son's murder,
Charles Russell Rhines, is using secondary appeals to manipulate the judicial
system and delay his execution.
"It's almost as if Donnivan never existed," she said. "Well, he did. This is
why we are here today, waiting for justice."
Jackley also noted that Donald Moeller was sentenced to death for the 1990 rape
and killing of 9-year-old Becky O'Connell of Sioux Falls, but Moeller's appeals
"There has been no justice for the death of that 9-year-old girl," Jackley
The House Judiciary Committee voted 10-3 to send the bill to the full House.
Rep. Mark Feinstein, D-Sioux Falls, voted against the bill, suggesting that the
state's legal costs would be lower if murderers were sentenced to life in
prison instead of death.
Supporters said the measure protects the rights of convicts but avoids
unnecessary repeated appeals.
"Families should not have to wait, and South Dakotans should not have to wait
for decades to see justice," said Rep. Stace Nelson, R-Fulton.
(source: Associated Press)