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Execution looms for S.D. killer after 22 years

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — A shocking discovery in 1990 that a 9-year-old girl had been murdered began a 22-year legal and emotional saga that is expected to end Tuesday. Donald Moeller, who was convicted of abducting and murdering the girl, is scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection.

After decades of appeals, Moeller, 60, now accepts his fate. But the end leaves behind a community still marked by the crime and its experience with capital punishment.

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The child’s mother, Tina Curl, plans to drive the 1,400 miles back to Sioux Falls from her native New York state to watch Moeller take his last breath. She didn’t have the money for the trip but held fund-raisers to pay her way.

Curl thought she was escaping the dangers of big-city life when she moved her family in 1990 from New York to Sioux Falls.

On May 8, 1990, Becky, a fourth-grader, began walking a couple of blocks to a store to buy sugar to make lemonade. She never returned.

Authorities say Moeller, a felon with a history of assaults who lived nearby, lured the girl into his truck and drove her to woods near the Iowa state line, where he raped her, stabbed her, and left her to bleed to death.

Detectives tracked Moeller down in Tacoma and brought him back for trial. He was convicted in September 1992 based on DNA and circumstantial evidence. But the verdict was overturned by the South Dakota Supreme Court because of the mention of past crimes during testimony.

With a new trial ordered in 1996, the horror of the gruesome killing was relived, and lingered for years longer.

Moeller fought his conviction and sentence until July, when he said he was ready to accept death as punishment for his actions. He persuaded a federal judge to dismiss his longstanding challenge of South Dakota’s lethal injection procedure.

‘‘The law has spoken,’’ he said. ‘‘I killed. I deserve to be killed.’’

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