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Judge's ruling paves way for S. Dakota execution

Associated Press Modified: October 10, 2012 at 1:17 pm •  Published: October 10, 2012

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — A federal judge has paved the way for the execution of a convicted killer whose attorneys wanted to challenge the constitutionality of South Dakota's execution method over his objections.

Donald Moeller, 60, is scheduled for lethal injection later this month for the 1990 slaying of 9-year-old Becky O'Connell. Moeller has said he's ready to die for the crime and asked that the challenge to the execution protocol be dismissed.

U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence Piersol accepted Moeller's dismissal request this week despite objections from the Arkansas attorneys who had been representing him, according to a ruling filed Wednesday.

The attorneys wanted to press forward with arguments in their challenge, which focused on whether South Dakota's use of the drug pentobarbital in a one-drug method would inflict cruel and unusual punishment.

They argued that Moeller is incompetent and incapable of making voluntary and rational decisions. An affidavit from a psychology professor said Moeller's abusive upbringing and time in solitary confinement have undermined his will to live.

Judge Piersol, after questioning Moeller at length during a hearing last week, said Moeller has the capacity to appreciate his position and make a rational choice.

"During the Court's extensive questioning of Moeller, he was at all times articulate and coherent with regard to the nature of his civil rights action and the consequences of abandoning the action," the judge wrote.

Attorney Scott Braden, who had argued to have a guardian appointed for Moeller, said Wednesday that he couldn't comment on the ruling.

South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley said dismissal of the constitutional challenge does not change the state's plans for Moeller's execution.

"The state is committed to performing an execution according to constitutional standards," Jackley said in a statement. "We have safeguards in place to assure a humane and dignified execution process for every inmate on South Dakota's death row."

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