Berget

SOUTH DAKOTA – Death penalty called incentive for Robert


 October 20,2012 http://www.argusleader.com

The lawyer for a man executed this week says the death penalty created an incentive for his client to murder corrections officer Ronald “R.J.” Johnson.

Mark Kadi, who represented 50-year-old Eric Robert in the capital case, wrote a letter to the Argus Leader saying his client devised an escape plan that involved murder to ensure a death sentence in the event his escape failed.

“The availability of the death penalty encouraged rather than discouraged Robert to commit this crime,” Kadi wrote. “I know this because Eric told me so.”

After the murder in April 2011, Robert quickly pleaded guilty and insisted the judge issue a death penalty, then strongly objected to a mandatory Supreme Court review, which delayed his execution. He wrote a letter to Attorney General Marty Jackley earlier this month encouraging revisions to state law to guarantee a speedy death for a death row inmate who was not fighting it.

Jackley, who prosecuted the case, rejects the notion that Johnson’s murder was anything but a failed, “poorly executed” escape attempt.

He also said the death penalty will protect corrections officers from an inmate who had promised to kill again.

Robert was executed by lethal injection Monday.

Kadi: Failed overdose before escape try

Kadi, who watched the execution, said in his letter that Robert felt “hopeless” behind bars, and that the inmate had attempted suicide by drug overdose before the escape attempt with fellow inmate Rodney Berget.

Robert was serving an 80-year sentence for kidnapping and failed to secure a sentence reduction.

Robert viewed a life sentence as being identical to a death sentence with the exception that the latter had a set date. Robert believed he needed to get out, one way or the other,” Kadi wrote.

Kadi’s letter says Robert had time to read the state’s death penalty statute and understood that killing a law enforcement officer in an act of escape would satisfy several of the aggravating factors that would justify an escape attempt.

Johnson was not afforded the additional protection the Legislature hoped to provide when adding those provisions to its death penalty statutes, Kadi wrote.

 Read the letter From Eric Robert to Attorney General Marty Jackley

Read the letter From Eric Robert’s Attorney, Mark Kadi

These factors, intended to be a shield, now served to target those the law protects in accordance with their important service to the public,” Kadi said. “The Legislature never intended these factors to be used in such a manner.”

Escape was only goal, Jackley says

Jackley rejects the notion that Robert and Berget’s crime was a suicidal act. Both men had escape histories, he said, and he contends escape alone was the goal.

“All the evidence in the case points to this being a poorly planned, poorly executed escape attempt,” Jackley said.

The attorney general also took issue with the notion that the death penalty does not provide a deterrent, particularly in Robert’s case. Robert said he would kill again if he weren’t executed.

“I can’t say if the death penalty will deter others from committing crimes in the future, but it deterred Eric Robert from committing any other crimes,” Jackley said.

Removing danger to prison staff

Future dangerousness framed key portions of Jackley’s argument for a death sentence in both Robert and Berget’s pre-sentence hearings. Berget also was sentenced to death for the crime.

Associate Warden Troy Ponto testified at Berget’s hearing that inmates segregated from the rest of the population can pose dangers during their daily interactions with officers.

Maximum security inmates are guarded by three officers any time their door is open.

“When we bring out inmates out of their cell, whether it be for a walk-through for medical, inmates have attempted to head-butt staff, punching them, kicking them,” Ponto said.

“We have good policies in place, but there is a risk when we take some of these guys out.”

Certain situations present further potential for violence. An inmate on a hunger strike would require additional interaction with medical staff, for example.

Robert and Berget both went on a hunger strike at the Minnehaha County Jail in the months after the murder of Johnson.

Ponto also said inmates are evaluated every 90 days to determine whether they should stay in segregation.

Johnson’s murder prompted a tightening of security measures at the prison. Lynette Johnson, Ron Johnson’s widow, said after Robert’s execution Monday night that “more needs to be done” to protect the officers at the penitentiary.

Speedy executions such as Robert’s rare

Richard Dieter, director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said the idea of an inmate committing a crime to earn a death sentence is highly unusual but not unheard of.

“Some believe that (serial killer) Ted Bundy deliberately went to Florida and committed murders because that was the state that was most likely to execute him,” Dieter said. “He was offered a plea bargain sparing his life, but he turned it down.”

Gary Gilmore, the first person executed following the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, volunteered for execution and was hanged three months from his sentence.

Robert’s explicit statement about his wish to die makes the case stand out, Dieter said.

The speed of Robert’s execution stands out as well. Of the 32 executions in the U.S. this year, Robert’s is the only one that happened within a year of the sentence. The next-shortest delay was six years.

The average wait time so far is 17 years.

Robert’s body was claimed by his family, Department of Corrections spokesman Michael Winder said.

 

 

SOUTH DAKOTA – Upcoming execution, ERIC ROBERT, week of october 14, 2012 EXECUTED 10.24 p.m


Warrant of Execution for Eric Robert Issued

PIERRE, S.D –  Attorney General Marty Jackley announced today that the warrant of execution for Eric Donald Robert has been issued by Second Circuit Court Judge Bradley Zell. Robert is scheduled to be executed between the hours of 12:01 a.m. and 11:59 p.m., during the week of Sunday, October 14, 2012, through Saturday, October 20, 2012, inclusive, at a specific time and date to be selected by the Warden of the State Penitentiary.
Pursuant to South Dakota law, the Warden will announce to the public the scheduled day and hour within forty-eight hours of the execution. South Dakota law further provides that for the execution, the warden is to request “the presence of the attorney general, the trial judge before whom the conviction was had or the judge’s successor in office, the state’s attorney and sheriff of the county where the crime was committed, representatives of the victims, at least one member of the news media, and a number of reputable adult citizens to be determined by the warden.

2011

A veteran prison guard who turned 63 on Tuesday was killed during a failed escape attempt at the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls.

Ronald E. Johnson was pronounced dead at a Sioux Falls hospital at 11:50 a.m. after an alleged assault by inmates Eric Robert and Rodney Berget about an hour earlier. Authorities won’t say how Johnson was killed and are not releasing details about the incident.

“It was his birthday today,” said Jesse Johnson, Ronald Johnson’s son. “That’s kind of the gut-wrenching thing about it.”

Another penitentiary employee sustained minor injuries in the attack.

The two inmates, both 48, were caught before they made it off the prison grounds and were transported to the Minnehaha County Jail.

Berget has escaped from the penitentiary in the past and tried other unsuccessful escapes. Robert has planned an escape while in prison, authorities said.

Johnson of Sioux Falls, a 23-year penitentiary veteran, was the first corrections officer killed by inmates since 1951, according to Department of Corrections records.

His friends and family knew him as “R.J.,” according to his son. The elder Johnson was a proud father of two and a grandfather of six, his son said, and anyone who knew him would call him an easy-going guy.

“He loved to relax and play with his grandkids,” Jesse Johnson said. “He never had a bad thing to say about anybody.”

R.J. Johnson had lived through a violent riot at the penitentiary in 1993 and dealt with inmate escape attempts before. The family understood the dangers, but Jesse Johnson said his father never dwelled on it.

Officials with the Department of Corrections, Division of Criminal Investigation, Attorney General’s Office and Gov. Dennis Daugaard declined interview requests Tuesday, but Daugaard’s office released this statement:

“I am deeply saddened by Mr. Johnson’s death, and I am praying for his family and friends at this very difficult time. This incident is a somber reminder that our prison guards put themselves at risk, every day, to protect South Dakota from our worst criminals.”

The penitentiary is under lockdown and will remain that way while the DCI conducts its investigation, according to the governor’s office.

“The attackers are in custody and under confinement. We will act swiftly to bring these murderers to justice and to ensure the safety of our prison staff,” Daugaard’s statement said.

Berget and Robert have yet to be charged, but Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead said the men are being closely monitored at the jail and treated as risks to public and officer safety.

Minnehaha County sheriff’s deputies were the first to respond to the scene, Milstead said, and deputies and the Sioux Falls Police Department were at the penitentiary to assist DCI agents all day.

Johnson is the first law enforcement official killed in the line of duty in South Dakota since the 2009 slaying of Turner County Sheriff’s Deputy Chad Mechels by 21-year-old Ethan Johns.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Milstead said of Johnson’s killing. “People are still suffering over the loss of Chad Mechels, and now we have this.”
Criminal histories

Robert of Piedmont was serving an 80-year-sentence for a 2005 kidnapping out of Meade County. Berget of Aberdeen was serving two life sentences – one for attempted murder in Lawrence County and one for kidnapping in Meade County. Both convictions came in 2003.

Meade County State’s Attorney Jesse Sondreal prosecuted both men. He called Robert “one of the most potentially dangerous men I’ve ever met.”

Robert posed as a police officer, pulled over 18-year-old Briana St. Clair near Blackhawk, threw her in the trunk of her own car and drove away. St. Clair used her cell phone to call 911 from the trunk. Sheriff’s deputies found her in the abandoned vehicle.

Police found rope and a shovel in Robert’s vehicle.

“But for her cell phone, she would have been raped and killed,” Sondreal said.

Robert asked for a sentence modification in 2008. When Robert’s former cellmate heard news of the request, he sent a letter to Sondreal pleading with the prosecutor to oppose any reduction in sentence.

“This guy (Robert) scared him so bad that he moved out of the cell,” Sondreal said. “He didn’t want him to get out of jail.”

Sondreal successfully prevented a sentence reduction by citing the letter, evidence that Robert had raped a former girlfriend in Chamberlain and information indicating that Robert had planned an escape attempt during his first two years at the penitentiary.

Berget has attempted escape on several occasions. Berget pleaded guilty to escape charges in 1984 while serving a sentence for grand theft.

On May 16, 1987, Berget and five other inmates escaped through a vent in the penitentiary’s recreation building in the largest escape in state history at the time.

Berget, Kelly Briggs, Rodney Horned Eagle, Dean Nilles and Alan Schultz were captured within two months. James Weddell eluded authorities until May 1989.

Berget was released on the escape charge in 2002. His current prison sentence was imposed in connection with a June 2003 arrest after a 150-mile chase that ended in Haakon County. Berget stole a car in Missoula, Mont., shot and wounded two people in Lead on June 2, then abducted a convenience-store clerk in Sturgis before surrendering after a long standoff near Midland, authorities say. In the kidnapping, he was charged with raping the clerk, who managed to jump out of the car when law officers stopped it.

Berget’s ex-girlfriend – one of the shooting victims – said Tuesday that she’s lived in fear for eight years.

Beatrice Miranda met Berget at a Deadwood Casino and dated him for about six months before she broke up with him. Within a week of the breakup in 2003, Berget forced his way into her house in Lead and exchanged gunfire with her.

Miranda was shot in the back. Her new boyfriend, Brian Horstmann, was shot in the chest. Both survived.

Miranda on Tuesday said that she was relieved that Berget is in custody. He had tried to escape three times before, she said.

“That’s what I was always afraid of. It was always in the back of my mind,” Miranda said. “I don’t leave my curtains open. I always lock the doors. People know not to knock real loud because I have real bad panic attacks.”

Miranda said she’ll remain in fear as long as Berget is alive.

“I am so happy he didn’t escape,” she said. “As long as he’s alive, he’s going to try and do something. I hope he gets the death penalty.”

If the inmates are found to have intentionally killed Johnson, Sondreal would agree with Miranda. Under South Dakota law, killing a law enforcement officer is considered an aggravating factor in a murder charge that allows prosecutors to seek the death penalty.

Sondreal says the long and violent criminal history of Berget and the disturbing details of the Robert case easily could make the Johnson killing a capital murder.

“I think the death penalty could be appropriate in this case,” Sondreal said. “Knowing their history and what they’re capable of, how could you put another corrections officer at risk?”

South Dakota Supreme Court to hear arguments in appeal by death-row inmate Rodney Berget


October1, 2012 http://www.therepublic.com

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — A lawyer for a man who pleaded guilty to killing a prison guard and was sentenced to death earlier this year is appealing the sentence to the South Dakota Supreme Court.

The state Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments Monday in the case of 50-year-old Rodney Berget. Berget pleaded guilty to killing guard Ronald Johnson on his 63rd birthday in April 2011 at the state penitentiary during a botched prison escape. A judge sentenced Berget to die by lethal injection. But Berget’s lawyer is now appealing the sentence.

A second inmate involved in the escape attempt, 50-year-old Eric Robert, is scheduled to die by lethal injection during the week of Oct. 14. A third inmate was sentenced to life in prison for his involvement.

SOUTH DAKOTA – Two brothers sentenced to death in separate states


May 27, source : http://www.freep.com

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Rodney Berget lives in a single cell on South Dakota’s death row, rarely leaving the tiny room where he awaits execution for bludgeoning a prison guard to death with a pipe during an attempted escape.

For Berget’s immediate family, his fate is somewhat familiar. He is the second member of the clan to be sentenced to death. His older brother was convicted in 1987 of killing a man for his car. Roger Berget spent 13 years on Oklahoma’s death row until his execution in 2000 at age 39.

The Bergets are not the first pair of siblings to be condemned. Record books reveal at least three cases of brothers who conspired to commit crimes and both got the death penalty. But these two stand out because their crimes were separated by more than 600 miles and 25 years.

“To have it in different states in different crimes is some sort of commentary on the family there,” said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which tracks death penalty trends.

The siblings’ journey from the poverty of their South Dakota childhood to stormy, crime-ridden adult lives shows the far-reaching effects of a damaged upbringing — and the years of havoc wrought by two men who developed what the courts called a wanton disregard for human life.

Rodney Berget is scheduled to die later this year, potentially ending the odyssey that began when the two boys were born into a family that already had four kids.

A former prison principal described Rodney as a “throwaway kid” who never had a chance at a productive life. A lawyer for Roger recalled him as an “ugly duckling” with little family support.

The boys were born after the family moved from their failed farm in rural South Dakota to Aberdeen, a city about 20 miles away. Roger arrived in 1960. Rodney came along two years later.

His farming dreams dashed, patriarch Benford Berget went to work for the state highway department. Rosemary Berget took a night job as a bar manager at the local Holiday Inn.

The loss of the farm and the new city life seemed to strain the family and the couple’s marriage. When the family moved to town, “things kind of fell apart,” Bonnie Engelhart, the eldest Berget sibling, testified in 1987.

Benford Berget, away on business, was rarely around. When he was home, he drank and become physically abusive, lawyers for the brothers later said.

By the 1970s, the couple divorced, and Roger and Rodney started getting into trouble. Roger skipped school. Rodney started stealing. Soon, they were taking cars. Both went to prison for the first time as teens.

Roger Berget enjoyed a rare period of freedom in 1982 and met a woman while hitchhiking. The two started a relationship, and the woman gave birth to a child the next year. But Roger didn’t get to see his son often because he was soon behind bars again, this time in Oklahoma. And for a far more sinister crime.

Roger and a friend named Michael Smith had decided to steal a random car from outside an Oklahoma City grocery store. The two men spotted 33-year-old Rick Patterson leaving the store on an October night in 1985. After abducting him at gunpoint, they put Patterson in the trunk and concluded he would have to be killed to prevent him from identifying his captors.

They drove the car to a deserted spot outside the city and shot Patterson in the back of the head and neck, blowing away the lower half of his face.

A year later, Berget pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced to death on March 12, 1987. An appeals court threw out a death sentence for Smith, who was later sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Less than three months after Roger was sentenced to death, Rodney Berget, then 25 and serving time for grand theft and escape, joined five other inmates in breaking out of the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls.

The men greased their bodies with lotion, slipped through a hole in an air vent and then cut through window bars in an auto body shop at the prison. Berget was a fugitive for more than a month.

Thirteen years passed before Roger Berget was executed by lethal injection on June 8, 2000. His younger brother was still in prison in South Dakota.

Then in 2002, the younger Berget was released. His sister and her husband threw Rodney his first-ever birthday party when he turned 40.

But the good days were numbered because a year later, he was sentenced to life in prison for attempted murder and kidnapping. He headed back to the South Dakota State Penitentiary — this time for good.

Then Rodney got to talking with a fellow inmate named Eric Robert about a goal they shared: to escape — or die trying.

The plan was months in the making. The inmates figured they would corner a solitary guard — any guard would do — and beat him with a pipe before covering his face with plastic wrap.

Once the guard was dead, Robert would put on the dead man’s uniform and push a box with Berget inside as the prison gates opened for a daily delivery. The two would slip through the walls unnoticed.

On the morning of April 12, 2011, the timing seemed perfect. Ronald “R.J.” Johnson was alone in a part of the prison where inmates work on upholstery, signs, custom furniture and other projects. Johnson wasn’t supposed to be working that day — it was his 63rd birthday. But he agreed to come in because of a scheduling change.

After attacking Johnson, Robert and Berget made it outside one gate. But they were stopped by another guard before they could complete their escape through the second gate. Both pleaded guilty.

In a statement to a judge, Rodney acknowledged he deserved to die.

“I knew what I was doing, and I continued to do it,” Berget said. “I destroyed a family. I took away a father, a husband, a grandpa.”

His execution, scheduled for September, is likely to be delayed to allow the State Supreme Court time to conduct a mandatory review.

Rodney Berget’s lawyer, Jeff Larson, has declined to comment on the case outside of court. Rodney did not respond to letters sent to the penitentiary.

The few members of the Berget family who survive are reluctant to talk about how seemingly normal boys turned into petty criminals and then into convicted killers of the rarest kind: brothers sentenced to death.

Dieter, of the Death Penalty Information Center, said some families of the condemned remain involved in appeals. But others see no reason to preserve connections.

“There’s no light at the end of it,” he said. “What happens at the end is execution.”