Idaho Press-Tribune reporter Nate Green selected to witness the death of convicted murderer Rhoades.
3:30 a.m. The road to the Idaho Maximum Security Institution — where Paul Ezra Rhoades is scheduled to die in 4 and 1/2 hours — is shrouded in a thick November fog. Driving into the hilly desert south of Boise, past the wild horse corrals and the "open range" signs, the only indication of the prison is a red light that blinks slowly and faintly in the distance. About six miles down Pleasant Valley Road, the entrance to the prison appears.
4 a.m. The guards at the prison entrance open the gate to news reporters, and a line of white television vans, satellite equipment crouched atop, rolls past the gates and deeper into the prison grounds. On their left, they pass the maximum security area that holds F-Block, where Rhoades and other death row inmates live. Behind looping waves of razor wire, the prison stands muted in the haze, smudged in pink-orange spotlights.
4:05 a.m. They arrive at the media tent, which is the shape and size of a small cabin, built of white plastic and held up by aluminum beams. The tent stands in a dusty red field on the outskirts of the prison grounds.
4:10 a.m. Inside the media tent, three fish bowls sit upon a table. Reporters drop their business cards in the bowls in hopes the state will pick them to witness the execution. One bowl is for broadcast media, another is for media from the counties were Rhoades was prosecuted and a third is for local press.
5:46 a.m. The media witnesses are announced. They include Ruth Brown, a reporter for the Idaho Falls Post Register, Mac King with KIVI-TV, and Nate Green with the Idaho Press-Tribune.
6:00 a.m. Idaho Corrections director Brent Reinke walks to the lectern. Cameras focus on the bald man with the gray goatee as he describes how events will unfold, culminating in Rhoades' death at 8:07 a.m. The prison will be on lockdown until Rhoades is dead, he notes. A reporter asks Reinke about Rhoades' demeanor. "He is very serious. He understands what is about to happen," Reinke says.
7:10 a.m. As the van escorts the reporters to the prison gates, the early morning light sparkles on the razor wire tangled around the perimeter fences. Dogs bark in the distance, and the guards escort the reporters through the first gate, which locks behind them. They walk 12 paces and the next perimeter gate clicks open, and they walk to front of the prison and pass through metal detectors.
7:15 a.m. Four long, dull green tables are arranged in a square in the middle of a judge's chambers inside the prison. Family and friends of Rhoade's victims — 21-year-old Stacy Dawn Baldwin, 34-year-old Susan Michelbacher and 20-year-old Nolan Haddon — sit around the table, along with prosecutors and government officials. There are 11 men and two women sitting at the table.
7:20 a.m. A large, soft-spoken man with salt and pepper hair combed forward, Idaho Department of Corrections Chief of Operations Kevin Kempf, speaks to the witnesses. He describes how the medical staff will inject Rhoades with three different drugs: a painkiller, a paralytic and potassium chloride to stop his heart. He tells the witnesses that they may hear some sounds, such as snoring, from Rhoades as he undergoes the execution process.
7:35 a.m. The witness room fills with chatter. Two muscular young men in their late 20s, wearing khakis and button up shirts with neckties, discuss their high school wrestling days. Two older men, wearing blue jeans and button up shirts, talk about the upcoming ski season.
7:48 a.m. Kempf announces there will be a delay. Late last night, a local attorney filed a complaint arguing that Rhoades' attorney wasn't qualified to handle a death penalty case. A district judge is reviewing the complaint and should make a decision in a few minutes, Kempf says. Several witnesses frown. "It just goes on and on," somebody mutters.
7:54 a.m. Kempf walks around the room, talking with the witnesses and patting them on the back.
8:15 a.m. Kempf announces the judge has signed an order to proceed with the execution. "We're all systems go," he says. In the next 15 minutes, he explains, Rhoades will be strapped to a gurney and delivered to the execution chamber, where he will be affixed with intravenous tubes to deliver the injection. But, he adds: "It wouldn't knock me off my chair if we get down there and there's another delay."
8:17 a.m. The chatter quiets. Several witnesses leave their chairs and mull around the room.
8:33 a.m. "We're ready to move to F Block," Kempf says. Guards escort the witnesses down a hall with a shiny concrete floor that reflects fluorescent tube lights. They enter a stairwell that smells of fresh acrylic paint and emerge outside, where the sun has brightened the sky.
8:35 a.m. They walk through the prison yard, where black tarps hang over the prison windows, preventing the inmates from seeing the visitors. Dogs bark.
8:40 a.m. The witnesses enter a small room that smells of new carpet. Five men and one woman, witnesses for the victims, sit in front of four large windows. The news reporters sit behind them, and the government representatives stand in the back of the room. Vertical blinds cover the windows.
8:44 a.m. A woman rotates the blinds and pulls them back to reveal Rhoades on his back on a padded table with his knees pulled up and covered in a white sheet. Blue straps cross his chest and arms. Clear tubes lead from his arm into a hole in the back wall, where a medical team waits ready to inject the three chemicals. Two other men stand in the room with Rhoades. Warden Randy Blades stands behind a podium with the Idaho state seal, gripping the edges of the podium and looking toward Rhoades in a grim expression. Director Reinke stands to the warden's side. He holds a black notebook in the crook of his arm. Two telephones hang on the wall behind him, a black one and a red one.
8:46 a.m. Rhoades wears thick glasses and has a jutting chin. He blinks rapidly and twists his lips. He bends his head to the right and looks toward his mother, who sits in a private room separated from the witnesses, and appears to mouth the words, "I love you." He looks upward at an overhead light and a video camera in the ceiling, then he twists his head and glances toward the witness room. His eyes alight on each person in the room, and he looks back to the ceiling.
8:48 a.m. The warden offers Rhoades an opportunity to speak. A microphone hangs from the ceiling above Rhoades, amplifying his words through speakers in the ceiling of the witness room.
He addresses Bert Michelbacher, the husband of Susan, saying, "I apologize for the role I played in your wife's death." But he denies his guilt in the death of Haddan and Baldwin. "You'll have to keep looking," he says. He looks to his right. "Goodbye, mother," he says. And he looks toward the warden and director. "You guys, I forgive you. I really do," he says.
8:50 a.m. Reinke picks up the black phone, a direct line to the state attorney general's office, and asks if there are any legal impediments; he's told there aren't. The attorney general enters the witness room, and the warden gives the order to "commence the execution." Rhoades declines to have his eyes covered. He waves his hand in a goodbye gesture and stares at the ceiling.
8:54 a.m. Rhoades releases a burbling sound and his knees collapse to the side. A muffled sob comes through the wall from the room where his mother sits. After several moments, all that can be heard is the static from the speakers and the faint chirp of birds outside.
8:57 a.m. The speakers go mute and somebody enters the execution chamber wearing blue surgical garb from head to toe. The person, whose gender can't be surmised because of the blue covering, pulls the sheet from Rhoades' legs, uncovering his white high top basketball shoes. The medic presses Rhoades' feet into straps and rearranges his knees. The medic approaches Rhoades and grabs him by the shoulders and shakes, shouting "Mr. Rhoades! Mr. Rhoades!" which is muffled through the glass. The medic pulls up Rhoades' glasses and checks his eyes before feeling for a pulse.
9:01 a.m. The speakers turn on. A phone rings on the warden's podium. He hangs it up, signaling that it is time to administer the final chemicals. A placid, sleepy look overtakes Rhoades' face. His glasses hang askew. His legs spread apart, and he seems to be smiling. A faint gurgle emits from his mouth.
9:10 a.m. A purple-blue pallor spreads over Rhoades' face and hands.
9:13 a.m. The coroner enters the execution chamber and presses a stethoscope into Rhoades' chest. He probes Rhoades' eyes with a flashlight.
9:15 a.m. The warden announces that Rhoades is dead. "The sentence of death has been carried out by order of the court," he says.
9:16 a.m. "The devil has gone home," announces a witness, a gray-haired gentleman with glasses who is friends with the Michelbacher family. "He lied all the way through," says one of the young men, Baldwin's brother. "Such a coward," says an older woman, Haddon's mother.
The victim witnesses hug and shake hands.
9:25 a.m. Guards escort the reporters back through the prison yard, through the halls and out through the razor-covered fences. They sit in their escort van and return to the media tent, where the television cameras wait.
Note: Some of the times in this story may not be exact.