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Judge denies stay of execution for convicted Idaho killer

By Laura Zuckerman

SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - A federal judge refused on Monday to grant a reprieve to a convicted killer scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection on Friday in what would be Idaho's first execution in 17 years.

Lawyers for Paul Ezra Rhoades, 53, had sought an emergency stay while the courts weighed his legal challenge to Idaho's method of execution, arguing it would breach his constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

Defense lawyers questioned whether the powerful anesthetic the state planned to administer in its lethal-drug mix would render Rhoades unconscious before two other substances were injected to paralyze him and stop his heartbeat.

But U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald Bush said he saw little chance Rhoades would prevail in his lawsuit, ruling that Idaho's execution protocols are similar to those in other states that have withstood legal challenges in federal court.

"The state of Idaho has an interest in seeing that its laws are enforced, and further delay will not meet that interest," Bush wrote in his 43-page decision.

Death warrants setting November 18 as the date for Rhoades' execution were issued last month after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review his appeal of two separate murder convictions for which he was sentenced to death in 1988.

A jury in Bonneville County, Idaho, found Rhoades guilty of first-degree murder, kidnapping, robbery and rape for the 1987 slaying of Susan Michelbacher, a 34-year-old school teacher abducted from a supermarket parking lot in Idaho Falls.

Also in 1988, a Bingham County jury convicted Rhoades of first-degree murder and kidnapping for the 1987 abduction-killing of a 21-year-old convenience store clerk, Stacy Baldwin of Blackfoot, Idaho.

Prosecutors said Rhoades shot her to death after she broke free of him as he tried to rape her.

Rhoades, whose execution has been set for Friday morning, would be the first person executed in Idaho since 1994, when condemned killer Keith Eugene Wells was put to death by lethal injection. The last execution before that occurred in 1957, and was carried out by hanging, Bush noted in his opinion.

The Idaho Department of Correction lists 15 inmates currently on death row, including Rhoades. It says 27 people have been executed in Idaho since 1864, 26 years before statehood.

(Editing by Steve Gorman and Cynthia Johnston)