South Dakota Supreme Court

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.

S. DAKOTA – S. Dakota death row inmate says justice will not be served until he is executed


June 18, 2012 : http://www.therepublic.com

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — A convicted murderer said in a letter written from death row that the South Dakota Supreme Court owes it not only to him but to the family of the prison guard he killed to allow his execution to take place in a timely manner. It’s the only way, he said, the guard’s family can get justice.

PHOTO: FILE - In this Oct. 14, 2011, file photo Eric Robert appears during a hearing in Sioux Falls, S.D. Robert pleaded guilty to killing Ron Johnson during a botched prison escape at the South Dakota State Penitentiary and asked to be put to death. A judge determined in October that the crime merited the death sentence, and Robert was scheduled for execution the week of May 13 but the state Supreme Court postponed the date in February to allow more time for a mandatory review to make sure the death penalty was proper, even though Robert hadn't appealed the conviction or sentence. The review could take up to two years. (AP Photo/Argus Leader, Emily Spartz, File)

Eric Robert, 50, pleaded guilty to killing Ron Johnson during a botched prison escape at the South Dakota State Penitentiary and asked to be put to death. A judge determined in October that thecrime merited the death sentence, and Robert was scheduled for execution the week of May 13.

But the state Supreme Court postponed the date in February to allow more time for a mandatory review to make sure the death penalty was proper, even though Robert hadn’t appealed the conviction or sentence. The review could take up to two years.

In a three-page letter to The Associated Press, Robert detailed why he believes the death sentence is appropriate in his case and described his aggravation with the delay. The letter represented Robert’s first public comments since his October sentencing.

He said justice works differently in death penalty cases than in others.

“Victims of non-capital offenses receive their justice when the perpetrator is placed in custody. Victims in capital cases receive their justice when the perpetrator is executed. Give the Ron Johnson family their justice, they have been forced to wait too long. I finish where I started — I deserve to die,” he said, alluding to a statement he read during his trial that started with “I deserve to die.”

Robert, a chemist who worked for the Environmental Protection Agency before overseeing a city water treatment department, was serving an 80-year-sentence on a kidnapping conviction when he attempted to escape April 12, 2011, with inmate Rodney Berget.

Robert contends he was drunk and trying to rob an 18-year-old woman of $200, not sexually assault her, in the kidnapping case. He was sentenced to 80 years in prison and would not have been eligible for parole until he was 83. He focused obsessively on getting his sentence reduced, but his appeal was denied in 2009, leading to what the judge at his death penalty trial called an “internal war” that eventually left Johnson dead.

Johnson was working alone on the morning of his death — also his 63rd birthday — in a part of the prison known as Pheasantland Industries, where inmates work on upholstery, signs, custom furniture and other projects. Prosecutors said after the inmates killed Johnson, Robert put on the guard’s uniform and tried to push a large box on a cart containing Berget to the prison gate. The inmates were apprehended before leaving the grounds.

In his letter, Robert noted that everyone agrees he is mentally competent.

“Yet, as recently as May 8, 2012, the (South Dakota Supreme Court) was still nosing around this issue. They just can’t seem to fathom that a defendant would accept a just fate,” he wrote, later adding he has a right to plead guilty and receive the death penalty. “I am free to admit my guilt, as well as acknowledge and accept society’s punishment just as I am free to proclaim innocence in defiance of a verdict. I believe that the sentence of death is justly deserved in any murder and should be carried out.”

Robert said the issue at hand is not about him wanting to die. Instead, it’s about the Legislature providing the South DakotaSupreme Court with adequate guidance on how to handle a sentence review when there’s no appeal.

In court briefs recently filed by his lawyer, Robert proposed the Legislature consider changes to the law, allowing death penalty proceedings to be given priority in the state Supreme Court or, absent an appeal, requiring the court to review the case in a set number of days before the execution date.

The briefs noted the state Supreme Court has reviewed numerous cases, including a civil dispute between actor Kevin Costner and an artist about whether sculptures were appropriately displayed at a Deadwood resort, while Robert’s case is still pending.

The justices noted in their February decision that unless a proper review is done before Robert is killed, the execution could be found unconstitutional under death penalty guidelines established by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The other inmate who tried to escape, Berget, 50, also pleaded guilty and was sentenced to death, although he is now appealing both his conviction and sentence. A third inmate, Michael Nordman, 47, was given a life sentence for providing the plastic wrap and pipe used in the slaying.

The penitentiary boosted security after Johnson’s death, including adding officers, installing more security cameras and mandating body alarm “panic buttons” for staff.

SOUTH DAKOTA – SD death row inmate asks for execution to proceed – Eric Robert


June 13, 2012 Source : http://www.mitchellrepublic.com

SIOUX FALLS  — A man sentenced to death for killing a prison guard says the state Supreme Court’s decision to delay his execution to allow for a mandatory review is denying him his constitutional rights.

Eric Robert, 50, will ask the South Dakota Supreme Court to allow his execution to proceed and is proposing legislative changes to prevent similar cases in the future in briefs that are expected to be filed later this week or early next week.

Robert pleaded guilty to killing prison guard Ronald Johnson during a botched prison escape in April 2011. A judge sentenced him to death for the crime last fall, and his execution was set for May. But the South Dakota Supreme Court stayed the execution in February to allow more time for a mandatory review, which could delay the execution for up to two years.

In briefs not yet filed with the court but given to The Associated Press in an email, Mark Kadi, Robert’s lawyer, argues that Robert has a constitutional, due process right to be executed based on the trial court’s order.

“If this process will take up to (two) years as reported, Robert proposes we seek to answer the main underlying issue in this case: does a death row inmate have a constitutional right to die on time as ordered?” Kadi said in an email.

In the briefs, Robert proposed the Legislature consider changes to the law, allowing death penalty proceedings to be given priority in the state Supreme Court or, absent a voluntary appeal, requiring the court to review the case in a set number of days before the execution date.

The briefs noted that during the months since Robert was sentenced, the state Supreme Court has reviewed numerous cases, including civil cases such as the dispute between actor Kevin Costner and an artist about whether sculptures were appropriately displayed at a Deadwood resort.

“These civil cases are undoubtedly important to the parties involved regarding their equitable or monetary interests. Death penalty cases due to their special nature and consequences, however, deserve special consideration,” the brief said.

Attorney General Marty Jackley said he could not comment on the new briefs because he has not yet seen them. Under appellate procedure, the state is only allowed to file one brief, which it has already done.

Robert was serving an 80-year-sentence on a kidnapping conviction when he attempted to escape April 12, 2011, with fellow inmate Rodney Berget.

Johnson was working alone the morning of his death — also his 63rd birthday — in a part of the prison known as Pheasantland Industries, where inmates work on upholstery, signs, custom furniture and other projects. Prosecutors said that after the inmates killed Johnson, Robert put on Johnson’s uniform and tried to carry a large box toward the prison gate with Berget inside. The inmates were apprehended before leaving the grounds.

Berget also pleaded guilty and has been sentenced to death. Another inmate, Michael Nordman, 47, was given a life sentence for providing the plastic wrap and pipe used in the slaying.

The penitentiary made more than a dozen procedural changes less than a month after Johnson’s death, including adding officers and installing additional security cameras. Other changes, outlined in a 28-page report, included further restricting inmate traffic, strengthening perimeter fencing, improving lighting and mandating body alarm “panic buttons” for staff.

SOUTH DAKOTA – Eric Robert objects delayed death sentence


SIOUX FALLS, S.D.  – An attorney for a man sentenced to death for the killing of a prison guard is submitting a brief to the South Dakota Supreme Court objecting to the court’s decision to delay the execution.

Eric Robert, 49, pleaded guilty to killing prison guard Ronald Johnson and asked to be executed. His execution was for May, but the South Dakota Supreme Court vacated the execution in February to allow more time for a mandatory review to determine if the sentence is proper.

The review process could delay the execution for possibly two years.

Mark Kadi, Robert’s lawyer, says that while state statute requires a review, it also requires the execution to occur within eight months of the death sentence being handed down.

sourcehttp://www.ksfy.com