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Associated Press, Published March 30 2013

Annual SD death penalty vigil draws 30 protesters

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – About 30 people gathered in Sioux Falls on Good Friday for an annual protest against the state’s death penalty law.

The group met outside the South Dakota state penitentiary where two men, Donald Moeller and Eric Robert, were put to death by lethal injection in October. Three other inmates – Charles Rhines, Briley Piper and Rodney Berget – are currently on death row.

The “Good Friday Vigil Against The Death Penalty” has taken place at the penitentiary for two decades. It was organized by the South Dakota Peace and Justice Center, South Dakotans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and Pax Christi.

The protesters are not defending the actions of those on death row, said Mark Sanderson, a member of the Peace and Justice Center.

“It does not make sense in our society to kill someone who has killed other people,” Sanderson said. “It’s a matter of looking at the violence in our society and how this particular act is another indication on how we need to curb our violence the best that we can.”

Seventeen states do not have the death penalty, including North Dakota. Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., convicted for kidnapping and killing University of North Dakota student Dru Sjodin in 2003, was sentenced to death in federal court. He’s on death row at a federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind.

Friday’s event lasted about an hour, after which some members of the group signed a living will document, which declares that if the signer is killed, the perpetrator can’t be executed by the state. The document was notarized on site.

Michael Sprong of Yankton said he signed a living will document several years ago and has been advocating for the state to end of the death penalty since 1992.

“I don’t want my name connected to the killing of people in South Dakota,” Sprong said. “I’m a citizen here, I’m represented when the state kills people, it’s done in my name. I’m here to say, ‘Not in my name.’”

Connie Irwin, a member of the Peace and Justice Center and Pax Christi, drove from Brookings to Sioux Falls to attend the vigil.

“We are here to say that we as a people, as a state, should not be killing people,” Irwin said. “There is such a thing for those who have killed others, such a thing as restorative justice. At the same time, our hearts go out to the victims and the families, but we also don’t think the state should be killing people.”