CHET BROKAW

The Associated Press

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) -The state Supreme Court on Thursday overturned the death sentence of a 29-year-old man who pleaded guilty to murdering an acquaintance as part of a burglary scheme.

The court unanimously ruled that Briley Piper of Anchorage, Alaska, did not validly relinquish his right to have a jury, rather than a judge, decide whether he got the death penalty or life in prison without parole for the murder of 19-year-old Chester Allan Poage of Spearfish.

The decision leave's Piper's first-degree murder conviction intact, but sends the case back to circuit court, where a jury will decide whether he should get death or life in prison.

Piper and Elijah Page of Athens, Texas, pleaded guilty in the March 2000 beating, torture and slaying of Poage. Circuit Judge Warren. G. Johnson of Deadwood sentenced the two to death. Page ended his appeals and was executed two years ago.

A third man who took part in the slaying, Darrel Hoadley of Lead, pleaded not guilty and was convicted by a jury that sentenced him to life in prison without possibility of parole.

Piper testified that the three abducted Poage as part of ascheme to burgle his mother's home when she was on vacation and killed him so there would be no witnesses to their theft of a Chevy Blazer, stereo, television, coin collection, video game and other items.

He said as Poage begged for his life, the three men made him take off most of his clothes and forced him into an icy creek. They stabbed him repeatedly, kicked him in the head 30 to 40 times, tearing his ears off, and then bashed him with large rocks. Poage also was forced to drink hydrochloric acid. The torture lasted at least two hours.

Poage's body was found several weeks later in the stream.