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SD high court upholds Briley Piper death penalty

Briley Piper, of Anchorage, Alaska, is taken to a hearing in Deadwood on April 17, 2007. In a ruling released Thursday,, the South Dakota Supreme Court upheld Piper's death sentence for the March 2000 killing of 19-year-old Chester Allan Poage near Spearfish. The high court also rejected Piper's request to withdraw his earlier guilty plea. (AP Photo/Rapid City Journal, Seth A. McConnel)

By Chet Brokaw

PIERRE (AP) — The South Dakota Supreme Court on Thursday upheld an Alaska man's death sentence in the 2000 torture and killing of a Spearfish man who begged for mercy, noting the defendant bragged about the slaying.

The high court also unanimously rejected Briley Piper's request to withdraw his guilty plea in the killing of 19-year-old Chester Allan Poage. Piper's appeal lawyer did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Piper, now 33, admitted his role in Poage's killing and faced a judge for his sentencing in 2001 on the advice of his lawyers who thought a jury was more likely to sentence him to death. The judge ordered the death penalty.

Piper appealed, and the state Supreme Court in 2009 overturned his death sentence by ruling that a jury, not a judge, should decide his fate. A jury then sentenced Piper to death in 2011.

An accomplice, Eljah Page, pleaded guilty and was executed in the death. A third man, Darrell Hoadley, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Piper filed another appeal, arguing that his death sentence was disproportionate to those in similar cases, particularly since Hoadley got a life sentence. The Supreme Court on Thursday rejected that argument.

The high court noted that Piper took part in kicking and stabbing Poage, and forced the victim to drink a toxic liquid.

Piper, Page and Hoadley had been friends with Poage, but when the victim's family left on vacation the three decided to kidnap him and steal things from his mother's home. Prosecutors said they knocked Poage out and tied him up, beat and stabbed him, stripped him and tried to drown him by pushing him into a stream where they stepped on his neck. They ended his life by dropping basketball-sized rocks on his head. Poage's body was found several weeks later in the stream.

"Throughout the evening, Poage begged for his life and repeatedly asked the men why they were hurting him," Justice Lori Wilbur wrote for the court.

"In contrast to his statements of remorse at this sentencing hearing, Piper bragged when he told his friends and cellmate about the events of the evening," Wilbur wrote.

The Supreme Court said its 2009 decision returning the case to a lower court for a new sentencing hearing did not allow Piper to raise the issue of withdrawing his guilty plea.

"Allan Poage's family has waited almost 14 years in their search for justice. Affirming the legality of Piper's conviction puts our criminal justice system a significant step closer to carrying out the jury's sentence," South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley said in a statement.

Jackley noted that Piper can file further appeals in state and federal courts.