Mother: Execution brings relief, not closure

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Tina Curl was so eager to see her 9-year-old daughter’s killer executed Tuesday night that she couldn’t even take her seat in the witness room.

“I was right up to the glass,” she told The Associated Press after the execution. “I wanted to see it up close.”

Donald Moeller, 60, received a lethal injection at the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls on Tuesday night as punishment for the 1990 kidnap, rape and killing of young Becky O’Connell.

Curl, who said Moeller’s death brought her relief but not closure, had been steadfast in her wish to watch Moeller die, even raising funds to cover her expenses to make the 1,400-mile trip from her home in New York state to Sioux Falls for the execution.

Late Tuesday she said she will never return to South Dakota.

Moeller kidnapped Becky from a Sioux Falls convenience store where she’d gone to buy sugar to make lemonade at home. He drove her to a secluded area near the Big Sioux River, then raped and stabbed her. Becky’s naked body was found the next day; investigators said her throat had been slashed.

After the execution, Curl showed pictures of Becky at 9 years followed by a framed drawing of how she might have looked had she lived to age 32.

Curl said she wanted to know details from Moeller about the crime. She had written to him in prison, but he didn’t respond. She was hoping to get that information Tuesday night in Moeller’s final statement.

But when asked if he had any last words, Moeller replied, “No sir,” and then looked up and said, “They’re my fan club?” It’s not clear who Moeller was referring to as his fan club.

Moeller then was administered a lethal injection of pentobarbital and took about eight heavy breaths before his breathing stopped and Moeller turned slightly pink.

Moeller’s eyes remained open as his skin turned ashen, then purple. The coroner then checked for vital signs, and Moeller was pronounced dead at 10:24 p.m.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard said he hoped the execution would bring some peace to Becky’s family and he commended Warden Doug Weber and his staff for their professionalism in planning this state’s second execution in less than a month.

“I take no pleasure in his death, but there are those who are so vile that executions are warranted,” Daugaard said in a statement.

Moeller initially was convicted in 1992, but the state Supreme Court overturned it, ruling that improper evidence was used at trial. He was again convicted and sentenced to die in 1997. The state Supreme Court affirmed the sentence, and Moeller lost appeals at the state and federal levels.

Though he fought his conviction and sentence for years, Moeller said in July he was ready to accept death as the consequence of his actions. He admitted for the first time in court that he killed the girl.

But even as Moeller insisted he was ready to die, several motions were filed on his behalf to stop the execution despite his protests.

Earlier this month, a federal judge dismissed a pending suit challenging South Dakota’s execution protocol after Moeller insisted he wanted no part of it. Moeller also distanced himself from a motion filed by a woman with loose family ties who argued that his decades in solitary confinement had made him incapable of voluntarily accepting his fate. That motion was dismissed Monday.

Moeller’s execution came just two weeks after the Oct. 15 execution of Eric Robert for killing South Dakota prison guard Ronald “R.J.” Johnson during a failed escape attempt.

Before that, the last execution in South Dakota was in 2007, when Elijah Page died by lethal injection for the murder of Chester Allan Poage, who was abducted and killed in a scheme to burglarize his mother’s home.

In 1947, George Sitts was electrocuted for killing two law enforcement officers. And in 1913, Joseph Rickman was hanged for the murder of a woman and her daughter.

They were among 17 inmates executed since 1877, the oldest of which came during the days of the Dakota Territory.

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