Paul Ezra Rhoades’ three-week crime spree was heinous and harrowingly prolific.
On Feb. 28, 1987, he kidnapped Blackfoot convenience store clerk Stacy Dawn Baldwin, shot her three times, and dumped her body.
On March 17, 1987, he walked into an Idaho Falls convenience store and shot Nolan Haddon five times, severing his spinal cord and leaving him to die in a walk-in cooler.
On March 21, 1987, he kidnapped teacher Susan Michelbacher from an Idaho Falls grocery store parking lot. He shot her repeatedly, sexually molested her, then killed her.
It is almost crime-show cliche to say Rhoades’ rampage took away some of a community’s innocence. Having lived in eastern Idaho at the time, I can attest that there is truth to that. This was (and, in truth, still is) a staid and safe part of the world. Serial killers just don’t happen upon Eastern Idaho.
I am sure many of my former neighbors hope to see Rhoades executed on Nov. 18, as is now scheduled. I just can’t share in that hope.
The likes of Paul Ezra Rhoades make it difficult to oppose the death penalty. The serious questions of guilt vs. innocence have been long since addressed. The nature of his crimes speaks for itself.
His case also illustrates the costly inefficiency of the death penalty.
Rhoades has faced execution dates before.
Feb, 28, 1992.
May 14, 1993.
No, those aren’t misprints. Yes, his case and its appeals have played out over two decades.
It is now sickening to hear Rhoades challenge the constitutionality of the state’s lethal injection protocol. He is pleading for his life, and bargaining over his fate, in a far more civilized venue than he granted his victims.
By having the death penalty on the books, our state gives Rhoades the standing to continue to plead for the mercy he never showed when he was on the outside. (I know some will argue for simply speeding up the appeals process — as, if when state-sanctioned death is concerned, expeditiousness should be an aim.)
But every step of the process, up to and including his execution, brings Rhoades’ crimes back to the forefront. And none of this restores the innocence Rhoades took from a community.
And all of this — including the preparation of a death room, for Idaho’s first execution in 17 years — costs taxpayers more than it would cost to simply lock Rhoades away for life, with no avenue for appeal.
Now 54, Rhoades is 24 years’ closer to the end of his life, 24 years’ closer to his ultimate day of justice. I feel nothing for him. I just think we, as a society, are the healthier for letting fate play out, on its own timetable.