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Piper, Convicted 20 Years Ago, Appeals Death Penalty

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Briley Piper
Briley Piper 2017

South Dakota’s remaining death-row inmate is challenging his guilty plea and death sentence from 2001. He also claims several aspects of his 2011 sentencing trial were unconstitutional. Piper has filed in federal court in Rapid City.

Briley Piper is one of three men who murdered Chester Poage in Higgins Gulch, near Spearfish, in March 2000. All of them, the victim and the offenders, were young men at the time, in their late teens or early 20s.

Darrell Hoadley is serving life in the South Dakota penitentiary, and Elijah Page was executed in 2007.

Now Piper is 40 years old and still fighting to stay alive.

In this latest appeal, Piper says his lawyers at his 2011 sentencing trial failed to adequately investigate witnesses and did not register objections necessary to preserve certain issues for appeal.

Piper alleges that the Lawrence County State’s Attorney targeted women on the jury panel for dismissal, violating Piper’s equal protection rights.

And he says a jailhouse snitch lied to jurors when he omitted the fact that he had been convicted of committing one first-degree rape and was facing charges of another. Piper says State’s Attorney John Fitzgerald failed to correct the lie, and Piper’s own attorneys had not done sufficient research into the snitch’s background to uncover the lies.

Piper also claims that Fitzgerald violated suppression orders when he insinuated that Piper was bisexual and a sexual deviant, giving the jury the impression that the murder victim had been sexually assaulted when there has been no evidence to support it.

This final death-row inmate also resurrects issues previously appealed to the South Dakota Supreme Court. One of those appeals overturned his sentence, but not his guilty plea. Piper then made his case to a jury at a 2011 sentencing trial held in Rapid City. That jury imposed the death penalty that Piper now challenges.

Piper is represented in this latest appeal by federal public defenders. No execution date has been set. Federal Judge Jeffrey Viken has stayed Piper’s warrant of execution until further notice, and Piper will remain in prison as the appeal progresses.

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