Two South Dakotans recall own
struggles with death penalty
Patrick Lalley - Argus Leader
August 29, 2006
Most South Dakotans absorbed the news of Elijah
Page’s delayed execution today and returned to the pleasant rhythms of
work and family.
But for a few, the fast-track march to the death
chamber had opened a portal to painful decisions about life and death.
In Bridgewater, Mike Clarey recalled the daughter he
lost to another murderer’s hand, and his family’s decision to spare the
In Yankton, Lori Nooney felt the wrenching inner
conflict of holding life in her hands and opting to send a killer to his
They are among the handful who’ve made concrete
decisions in an otherwise theoretical discussion.
Clarey and Nooney had to make a choice – life or
They came down on opposite sides of the question, but
they see the other side. Their real-life decisions are shaded with the
kind of consequences with which the rest of us are not burdened.
Ann Kathryn “Katie” Clarey was 11 years old when she
was kidnapped, raped and murdered while doing her paper route in central
Sioux Falls on May 9, 1991. Kelly Van Engelenhoven, then a 28-year-old
man with a history of exposing himself, was arrested for the murder.
Mike and Kathie Clarey, devout Catholics, persuaded
prosecutors not to seek the death penalty in the case. Engelenhoven
pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison, where he still
Fifteen years later, Elijah Page’s voluntary walk to
the death chamber revives the memories of the Clareys’ decision.
“A day doesn’t go by that I don’t think about what
happened,” Mike Clarey said from Bridgewater, where his family moved
three years ago after a stint in Nebraska. “Whenever the death penalty
comes up, of course, it’s linked.”
The Clareys followed the coverage leading up the Page
execution and hoped for a reprieve from the governor.
For all his certainty about the death penalty, Mike
Clarey says he believes there may be times when taking life is justified
to protect innocent people.
“Unfortunately in this country it’s become
politicized,” he said. “It’s more for revenge than for justice, and
that’s where the problem comes in.”
Clarey, a salesman, planned to spend today working as
normal, finding time for prayer and reflecting on a society that he says
cheapens the value of life.
“The people I come in contact with, if we have an
opportunity for discussion, I will express my views,” he said. “That is
all I can do.”
Nooney also was involuntarily thrust into the death
penalty spotlight as a member of the Yankton County jury that convicted
Donald Moeller of raping and killing 9-year-old Becky O'Connell of Sioux
It was the first death sentence handed down in South
Dakota since the reinstatement of capital punishment. The verdict was
overturned (Moeller was retried, reconvicted and again sentenced to
death) but the vote to kill another person was a “life-altering decision,”
“I went on to the jury thinking I was more opposed
than I was for it,” she said from Yankton, where she works as a
paralegal. “Up until five minutes before we went out there I still
didn’t know if I was doing the right thing.”
In the end, she believes Moeller should die for his
crime. She wishes it would happen quicker and she resents a system that
put her in that position to begin with. Judges, not juries, should
decide sentencing, she believes.
Nooney tried to avoid news in recent days but admits
being drawn to Tuesday’s coverage in a sort of morbid preparation for
Donald Moeller’s execution, if that day ever comes.
“It’s hard,” she said. “I don’t know that if I do
live to see the day he is executed that I will have any relief. “I don’t