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A View to a Kill: Idaho's Playbook for the Execution of Paul Rhoades

The countdown to Idaho's first execution in nearly two decades

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On Oct. 19, Seventh District Judge Jon Shindurling issued death warrants for Paul Ezra Rhoades, 23 years after Rhoades was sentenced to death. The orders made their way to the desk of Brent Reinke, director of the Idaho Department of Correction. He knew exactly what to do--start the clock.

Reinke accessed IDOC's standard operating procedure for capital punishment, even though there was nothing standard about what would happen in less than 30 days. In fact, if Rhoades is put to death as scheduled at 8 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 18, it will be the first Idaho execution since 1994, and only the second since 1957.

While the clock ticks down the days, hours and minutes, some residents of Eastern Idaho vividly recall the grisly crimes that sent Rhoades to death row.

On the morning of March 1, 1987, the body of 21-year-old Stacy Baldwin was found off a rural road about five miles northwest of Blackfoot. She had been shot three times. Law enforcement initially thought that her murder was part of a robbery since she was a night-shift clerk at a nearby convenience store.

Then on the morning of March 17, 1987, 20-year-old Nolan Haddon was found in the walk-in freezer of another Blackfoot convenience store. Haddon had been shot five times. He was rushed to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center where he died a few hours later.

On March 21, 1987, the body of 34-year-old Susan Michelbacher was found in a desolate lava field about seven miles west of Idaho Falls. She had been abducted from the parking lot of an Idaho Falls supermarket, raped and shot to death.

Four days later, on the evening of March 25, 1987, Rhoades was arrested while gambling at the 4-Way Casino in Wells, Nevada. Ballistics linked the three murders to a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson and a box of bullets found near Rhoades' car. Rhoades agreed to a plea bargain in the Haddon case, in which he was sentenced to life in prison. But in two other trials, he was sentenced to death for the murders of Baldwin and Michelbacher.

Today, Rhoades is the lone inmate in F Block of the Idaho Maximum Security Institution south of Kuna.

"F Block is a state-of-the-art execution chamber," Reinke told BW. "We wanted to make sure as we moved forward that we had an execution chamber that encompassed three areas: professionalism, respect and dignity."

Reinke said he knew "a fair amount" about Rhoades, through Maximum Security Warden Randy Blades' interactions with the condemned prisoner.

"For what I have been told by our staff on the scene, he's doing quite well," said Reinke. "He has good days and, at times, he has bad days, as do many of our individuals serving on death row. But at this point, I'm not equipped to speak to his character or how he's addressing his past."

Reinke is a manager known for strict attention to detail, but perhaps no other event in his career has required as much attention. From now until the morning of Friday, Nov. 18, Reinke and his staff will be closely following policy 135.02.01.001, the 24-page guideline detailing how Idaho will put Rhoades to death. The following is taken directly from the official timeline.

Oct. 18 to Oct. 28: 30 to 21 Days Prior to Execution

• IDOC issued a news release announcing the date and time of the execution.

• IDOC forwarded agreements to a series of individuals regarding the witnessing of the execution, including Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, the coroners, sheriffs and prosecuting attorneys of the counties of conviction (Bingham and Bonneville) and sentencing justices (Seventh District Judges Larry Boyle and James Herndon).

• Blades began a so-called "execution log," providing a "comprehensive and chronological history documenting every aspect of the execution proceeding until the offender has been executed or has received a stay of execution order." When completed, the log will be placed in the offender's file.

• Blades ensured that the execution chemicals and other medical supplies had been purchased. As soon as the chemicals were received, a chain-of-custody document was created and the chemicals were stored in a safe.

• Blades discussed with Rhoades the options available for the disposition of his body after it has been released by the coroner. Rhoades is not allowed to donate his body for any organ donations.

• Rhoades was informed that two family members, friends or the attorney of record may be present at his execution.

• Rhoades was advised that he would be able to request a last meal, but his choice is limited to the IDOC standard food service menu.

• Within two days of receiving the death warrant, Rhoades' family was notified by certified mail of the date and time of the pending execution. The notification informed them that if they chose to receive Rhoades' remains, they would be responsible for the burial, or the State of Idaho would have the remains cremated.

• According to IDOC directive 312.02.01.001, should there be no family to claim the body, a non-family member may wish to claim it. If there is no claim, the body will be cremated and stored, and if no person comes forward within one year to claim the ashes, they will be disposed of at a location determined by IDOC.

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