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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.

Oct. 28 to Friday, Nov. 11: 21 to Seven Days Prior to Execution

• Regular briefings continue with IDOC staff.

• Tabletop and live exercises are conducted with three key teams: the Execution Escort Team, Medical Team and Injection Team. The names of individuals on the teams will remain confidential. Team training continues weekly before the execution.

Friday, Nov. 11 to Wednesday, Nov. 16: Seven to Two Days Prior to Execution

• Josh Tewalt, deputy chief of prisons, will activate an incident command system.

• Staffing levels will be confirmed.

• Local law enforcement agencies will be fully briefed.

• Two more rehearsal sessions will be held by the Execution Escort, Medical and Injection teams along with command staff.

• An execution inventory and equipment check will be verified.

• The execution chamber will be readied.

• The plan on potential witnesses and those be present at the execution will be finalized.

Thursday, Nov. 17: 24 to 12 Hours Prior to Execution

• Tewalt will activate the following teams: Command, Correctional Emergency Response, Maintenance, Critical Incident Stress Management and Traffic Control.

• The operations of IDOC's South Boise complex will be modified in anticipation of the next 48 hours.

• A health-care review of Rhoades will be conducted.

• Blades will ensure that the Execution Unit is complete, with final evaluations of security, climate control, lighting and sound.

• Blades will ensure that the chemical room clock is accurately set and working.

• Rhoades' personal property, with the exception of one religious item, will be removed and inventoried.

• Blades will ensure that appropriate restraints are ready.

• The Medical Team leader will check electrocardiograph instruments.

• The medical supplies and chemicals will be inventoried.

Thursday, Nov. 17: 12 Hours Prior to Execution

• Access to IDOC's South Boise complex is will be limited to on-duty personnel, approved delivery vehicles, approved media, approved execution witnesses and law enforcement personnel on business-related matters.

• IDOC's complex, the Correctional Alternative Placement Program and the Idaho Correctional Center will go on secure status.

• Rhoades will receive his last meal by approximately 7 p.m. All eating utensils will be removed upon completion of the meal.

• Rhoades will need to conclude any phone calls by 9 p.m.

• Rhoades will need to terminate any visitation by 9 p.m., excluding visits from his attorney.

• Health-care services will offer Rhoades a mild sedative no later than 11 p.m.

Friday, Nov. 18: Execution Day

• By no later than 3 a.m., Rhoades will be offered a light snack. All utensils will be removed upon completion of the meal.

• By no later than 4 a.m., health-care services will offer Rhoades another mild sedative.

• Kevin Kempf, director of operations, will brief those who will witness the execution. Rhoades' family and the victims' families will receive separate briefings.

• Blades will transfer custody of the chemicals to the Medical Team to complete chemical and syringe preparation.

• Assigned Medical Team members shall prepare a total of three complete sets of chemicals. One full set of syringes is used in the implementation of the death sentence and two full sets are to be available for use as back-up.

• The Medical Team leader will attach two sets of syringes to a manifold that will administer the chemicals. The labels will be clearly visible.

• The Injection Team leader will confirm that all syringes are properly labeled and attached in order.

• Reinke will confer with the attorney general or designee and Otter (or designee) to confirm there is no legal impediment to proceeding with the execution and there are no motions pending before a court that may stay further proceedings.

• The Execution Escort Team will bring Rhoades to the execution room secured on the table with his arms positioned at an angle away from his side.

• The Execution Escort Team leader will check the restraints to ensure they are not so restrictive as to impede Rhoades' circulation, yet sufficient to prevent Rhoades from manipulating the catheters and IV lines.

• The assigned Medical Team members will insert the catheters and attach the IV lines.

• The witnesses will be brought to applicable witness areas.

• Blades will read aloud a summary of the death warrant.

• A microphone will be positioned to enable the Medical Team and Injection Team leaders to hear any utterances or noises made by Rhoades throughout the procedure.

• Blades will ensure there is a person present who is able to see, hear and speak to Rhoades throughout the execution.

• Blades will ask Rhoades if he wishes to make a last statement and will provide Rhoades an opportunity to do so.

• Blades will offer Rhoades an eye covering.

• The Medical Team Leader will attach the leads from the electrocardiograph to Rhoades' chest. A Medical Team member will monitor the EKG.

• The assigned Medical Team members will insert a primary IV catheter and a backup IV catheter in two separate locations. The insertion sites in order of preference will be: arms, hands, ankles and feet.

• Blades will remain in the execution chamber with Rhoades throughout the administration of the chemicals.

• Reinke will reconfirm with Wasden, or designee, and Otter, or designee, that there is no legal impediment to proceeding with the execution.

• Upon receipt or oral confirmation that there is no legal impediment, Reinke will instruct Blades to commence the process to carry out the sentence of death.

• Blades will order the Injection Team leader to begin the administration of chemicals.

• The Injection Team leader will instruct the assigned Injection Team member to begin dispensing the first chemical.

• The assigned Injection Team member will visually and verbally confirm the chemical name on the syringe and administer the full dose of Sodium Pentothal or pentobarbital followed by a heparin/saline flush.

• The Medical Team leader shall confirm the offender is unconscious.

• The Medical Team leader, dressed in a manner to preserve his anonymity, will physically confirm the offender is unconscious.

• When instructed, the Injection Team leader will instruct the assigned Injection Team members to begin administering the full doses of the remaining chemicals, each followed by a heparin/saline flush.

• When all electrical activity of the heart has ceased as shown by the EKG, the Medical Team leader will advise the Ada County coroner and Blades that the procedure has been completed.

• The coroner will enter the execution chamber, examine Rhoades, and pronounce Rhoades' death to Blades.

• Blades will announce that the sentence of death has been carried out as ordered by the court.

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