This is one of those areas where I show my independent, moderate side.  It’s a view where I damn near go all “Rick Perry” and wait for applause as someone is executed.  But in this case, I can’t help it.

I’m a person who respects the sanctity of a human life.  That’s where my conflicting views are shouting at me today.

Paul Ezra Rhoades was put to death by lethal injection in Boise, Idaho, today, that state’s first execution in many years.  Rhoades was accused of brutally murdering three people in southeastern Idaho in 1987.  One of the victims, Stacy Baldwin, a recent bride, was found lying dead next to some large garbage dumpsters just down a frontage road from where I once lived with my family in the early years of my marriage, where her body had been dumped on the cold ground, literally like a piece of trash.  I wasn’t married when the Baldwin murder occurred.  My wife tells me that her father — who worked as a teacher in Ogden, Utah, at the time and would normally make the two-hour drive home only on weekends — drove to work and back home EVERY DAY to make sure his family was safe until the case was solved.  That’s the kind of fear that was gripping the area then.

Two other victims — a young man and another woman — died in equally grisly fashion a bit more than 20 miles north in Idaho Falls within days of each other.  Rhoades was also suspected in a couple of deaths in Utah around that time.

I covered the first two of Rhoades’ murder trials, in Idaho Falls and in Blackfoot, in the time that I was managing editor of The Morning News in Blackfoot.  The photo here is probably from the time of preliminary hearings in the old Bingham County courthouse, before it burned down.  I even remember a couple of the officers shown leading Rhoades through the courthouse who are in the photo.  Rhoades’ first trial was in Idaho Falls, for the killing of Susan Michelbacher.  I drove there and back from Blackfoot every day for the trial, from beginning to end.  The evidence was overwhelming.

In the Bonneville County courthouse in Idaho Falls, the prosecution and the defense were seated separately at large, heavy wooden tables that were close to each other.  With all the files and other materials piled on, it would be a bit of a chore to have lifted them.  Rhoades stood up when the guilty verdict was announced to the court.  I looked straight into his eyes.  As soon as the verdict was announced, his eyes filled with rage.  He quickly reached underneath the table in front of him and flipped it, almost as though it were made of cardboard.  After shouting threats and profanities, Rhoades was hustled out of the room.

I kept my eyes peeled on Rhoades through it all.  What I was seeing in those eyes wasn’t so much the eyes of a human being.  It was more like the eyes of an animal.  A wild and dangerous animal.  That is the only way I can describe the look in his eyes, the fury he displayed.  It’s one of the most shocking things I’ve ever witnessed.

Rhoades managed to behave himself much better when he came to trial in Bingham County for the Baldwin murder.  Again, the evidence was overwhelming and he was found guilty.  There were no similar courtroom incidents then.

I am not a strict proponent of capital punishment.  I believe people can be wrongly charged and put to death, and I just pray that evidence is presented in those cases that could set them free or help them escape death themselves if they are, indeed, innocent.

In the case of Paul Ezra Rhoades, he gave one last act of defiance just before his own life was snuffed out today.  He admitted to the Michelbacher death, yet he essentially thumbed his nose at the Haddon and Baldwin families.  I was predicting on Facebook before the execution that he would do something noteworthy in his last moments, but I was expecting something along the lines of trying to wrestle free of his prison guards and trying to flee, after what I had seen with my own eyes back in the late ’80s.

Instead, he thumbed his nose at those who were seeking closure over the loss of two loved ones.

When it comes to Paul Ezra Rhoades, we’re not talking so much about a human being being executed.  Closer to an animal being put out of its misery.


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