KATIE ZERR: It is time to put an end to the Moeller saga


A chapter in the history of heinous crime in South Dakota may finally be closed this week, as South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley will see the execution of Donald Moeller. Jackley has requested the execution date to be set within 90 to 120 days.

For those who may have forgotten, on May 8, 1990, in Lincoln County,  9-year-old Becky O’Connell was abducted, raped, stabbed and her throat was slashed. Donald Moeller was arrested and convicted of the crime, but on appeal the original conviction was overturned by the South Dakota Supreme Court, on a ruling improper evidence was admitted at the first trial. On May 21, 1997, Moeller was convicted for the second time for the rape and premeditated murder. The same jury sentenced him to death and the South Dakota Supreme Court upheld his conviction and sentence in August 2000.

But he continued to fight his conviction and filed for habeas corpus relief in State Circuit Court. That petition was denied. The South Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the denial of state habeas on October 4, 2004. Moeller filed for federal habeas relief on Dec. 14, 2004. The Federal District Court Judge Lawrence Piersol denied habeas relief on April 9, 2010. In November 2011, Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals denied Moeller’s petition for rehearing and his request for a rehearing en banc. On June 4, 2012 the United States Supreme Court affirmed Donald Eugene Moeller’s conviction.

His execution date may finally be set despite his pending federal appeal arguing the state did not follow proper procedures in setting its execution method.

In that case, Moeller contends the execution method violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment, partly because drugs obtained from foreign sources and not approved by federal agencies could be flawed and cause pain during the execution. State officials now contend that Moeller will be executed using the one-drug pentobarbital protocol, which will limit the court’s focus on discovery to that drug. Moeller’s lawyers are seeking information on the source of the pentobarbital, how and when it was acquired, its location and storage and the manufacturer’s instructions for the drug.

Those who believe in the appeal process can look at this long trail of court appearances and petitions filed and say that Moeller has had his fair chance at justice.

That cannot be said for the family of a little girl who was raped and brutally murdered by a man who has twice been found guilty.

Each time Moeller and his attorneys have raised a new appeal, this family relives this crime. It is enough that they must have to live each day without their child, but now they must watch as the man convicted marches into court after court trying to stay his own death, with a bevy of lawyers, paid for by their tax dollars.

In September of 2001 the Sioux Falls Argus Leader reviewed bills and charges for Moeller’s prosecution, litigation and incarceration showing South Dakota has paid at least $1,496,777 to try bring Moeller to justice for the murder of Becky O’Connell.

It includes bills submitted to Lincoln County by prosecutors and defense lawyers for two trials, two convictions and two death sentences.

It also includes Moeller’s incarceration at the Minnehaha County Jail leading up to his first trial, and charges for keeping him on death row after his conviction. It also includes estimates by the attorney general’s office for time spent litigating Moeller’s numerous appeals through the years.

More money has certainly been spent since that time.

It is time for the man who murdered an innocent child to be punished for this crime. He has been found guilty and should be put to death.

That is the punishment for the crime and the sentence needs to carried through.

He has had his chance. That is more than we can say for Becky and her family.

They have paid over and over again for Donald Moeller and it should have been finished years ago.

– Katie Zerr –


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