BOISE – Members of the families of murder victims Stacy Baldwin, Nolan Haddon and Susan Michelbacher witnessed the administration of justice on Friday.
They watched from outside the execution chamber as Paul Ezra Rhoades, convicted in the 1987 deaths of the three, was executed. He received a lethal injection of drugs in the execution chamber of the Idaho Maximum Security Institution at 8:53 a.m. and Erwin Sonnenberg, the Ada County coroner, pronounced Rhoades dead at 9:15 a.m. Friday.
“It is a sense of relief to know that something that has bothered our family so long, the issues of the past, we don’t have to visit any more,” said Baldwin’s brother, David Taylor who attending the execution.
“It’s extremely relieving to have it come to a conclusion,” said Bingham County Prosecuting Attorney Scott Andrew who was also in attendance. “Most of the families have done a lot of healing over the years, but it always hit me in the heart when it was always brought up.”
Idaho Department of Corrections Director Brent Reinke noted that Rhoades exhausted every legal avenue available to him before the state was able to fulfill his sentence. His attorneys failed in their bids to get the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals or the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their claim that Idaho’s execution team wasn’t sufficiently trained to ensure that Rhoades wouldn’t feel undue pain before his death. They argued that amounted to cruel and unusual punishment forbidden by the U.S. Constitution.
An attorney in Mountain Home filed a motion at 3 a.m. Friday claiming that Rhoades’ federal attorneys were not qualified to work on his behalf. A Fourth District Court judge in Boise rejected that appeal, although it did cause a 55-minute delay in the execution.
“There’s an overwhelming sense of ‘that’s over and now we get to move forward,'” Andrew said.
As he lay on the gurney, waiting for the drugs to end his life, Rhoades made his final statement: “To Bert Michelbacher, I am sorry for the part I played in your wife’s death. For Haddon and for Baldwin, I can’t help you. You still have to keep looking. I’m sorry for your family. I can’t help you. I took part in the Michelbacher murder. I can’t help you guys. I’m sorry.”
“I was stunned,” Julie Haddon, Nolan’s mother said. “… to think that he would deny it. When he apologized to Bert Michelbacher, I was just thinking he had become repentant.”
“I was a little frustrated that he couldn’t own up to what he’d done,” Taylor said. “I don’t believe that statement for a second.”
Tom Moss, who was the Bingham County Prosecuting Attorney at the time of the murder trials, said he wasn’t surprised with Rhoades’ statement.
“I know what the evidence was,” he said. “There’s no doubt in my mind (of Rhoades’ guilt).
“Nothing brings total justice,” said Moss, who attended the event. “I came here to support the people I was close to.”
Andrew said he wanted Moss at the event. “I could tell the families were extremely glad to see him.”
Andrew said the officers who dealt with Rhoades two decades ago described him as defiant and indicated they wouldn’t be surprised if he did something like that.
“He will not let anyone have peace,” Andrew said. “That part is disappointing."