South Dakota

Jury sentences man with history of mental illness to death for killing nurse as part of plot to assassinate President Barack Obama


April 15, 2014

A man with a history of mental illness has been sentenced to death by a jury for killing a South Dakota hospice nurse as part of a plot to assassinate President Barack Obama.

James McVay pleaded guilty but mentally ill to murder in 2012 in connection with the stabbing death of 75-year-old Maybelle Schein.

McVay, 43, said he killed Schein and stole her car as part of his plan to drive to Washington and kill the president.

The Sioux Falls jury chose the death penalty, though jurors could have sentenced McVay to life in prison without parole.

Authorities said McVay walked away from a minimum-security prison in July 2011 in Sioux Falls and was mixing cough syrup and alcohol when he climbed under Schein’s slightly open garage door, entered her house, killed her and drove away in her car.

After Schein’s car was reported stolen, police used a tracking service in the vehicle to find McVay on Interstate 90 near Madison, Wisconsin. He was arrested after a brief chase.

Madison Police Officer Kipp Hartman testified that he was trying to get McVay to reveal his name when McVay began saying he ‘killed a little old lady’ in South Dakota and stole her car to get to Washington, D.C., to kill the president.

Prosecutor Aaron McGowan said McVay stabbed Schein nine times, with the final blow cutting her vocal cords and carotid artery, causing her to bleed to death within 16 seconds.

But public defender Traci Smith yesterday said McVay’s characterization by the prosecution as monstrous did not square with the facts of the case or his history, the Argus Leader reported.

Smith said McVay’s mental health was not properly monitored or cared for by the prison staff. She added that McVay poses no threat when his illness is cared for.

‘The state has continually downplayed the effect of mental illness,’ Smith said.

The jury, made up of seven men and five women, agreed last week with prosecutors that McVay’s crime met two aggravating circumstances that would allow the state to impose a death sentence.

The first deemed the offense outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible, or inhuman; the second found that the defendant committed the offense for his own benefit or the benefit of another.

Public defender Amber Eggert during the trial argued before the jury that McVay has suffered from mental illness as well as alcohol and drug issues for much of his life and his life should be spared.

She said that the night before the killing, McVay mixed alcohol with a DXM-based cough syrup, which can cause hallucinations.

McVay said he awoke briefly at 3am to find spiritual entities surrounding him and awoke again hours later to find them still there, telling him to follow through on his plan, she told jurors.

‘That was the sign he was going to get the transportation and the final stuff he needed before going to Washington, D.C.,’ Eggert told the jury.

Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, earlier this month said the death penalty is traditionally reserved for the worst of the worst, and it’s rare for a state to seek the punishment of death after finding someone guilty but mentally ill.

‘I just don’t know of any cases in which you have (such) a verdict, and then the state still seeks the death penalty,’ he said.

Dieter said the guilty but mentally ill verdict gained popularity in a dozen states as part of the public outcry over John Hinckley being found not guilty by reason of insanity in 1982 in the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan.

The jury on Monday deliberated for a little more than five hours. After the verdict was announced, McGowan said the jury ‘made a brave decision.’

‘I think they made the correct decision,’ McGowan said.

McVay’s defense team did not speak to the media after the hearing. Some of them wept after the verdict was read, news outlets reported.

Three other individuals are on death row in South Dakota: Rodney Berget, Charles Rhines and Briley Piper.

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SOUTH DAKOTA – EXECUTION DONALD MOELLER, 10/30/2012 EXECUTED 10.24 P.M


Before being given a lethal injection at a South Dakota penitentiary, Moeller, 60, was asked if he had any last words.

‘No sir,’ he said, then added: ‘They’re my fan club?’

Donald Moeller, 60, received a lethal injection at the state penitentiary in Sioux Falls, marking South Dakota’s second execution this month in an unusual surge for a state that has carried out just two other death sentences since 1913. He was pronounced dead at 10:24 p.m.

last meal Tuesday of scrambled eggs, link sausage, tater tots and drip coffee.

OCTOBER 30,2012 http://www.chicagotribune.com

This frame grab provided by KELO-TV shows convicted killer Donald Moeller during a court appearance in Sioux Falls, S.D., Wednesday, July 18, 2012.  Ronal Moeller  Taken: Becky O'Connell was in the fourth grade when she set out to walk a few blocks from home to buy sugar to make lemonade, but never returnedBecky O’Connell

(Reuters) – A man convicted of raping and murdering a 9-year-old girl after kidnapping her from a convenience store in 1990 is scheduled to die by lethal injection on Tuesday night in South Dakota, the state’s second execution this month.

Donald Moeller, 60, who had declared his innocence and fought for two decades to prevent his execution, admitted during a court hearing in early October that he had committed the crime and stopped appeals that would further delay his death sentence from being carried out.

His execution is scheduled for 10 p.m. Central Time on Tuesday at the state prison in Sioux Falls.

According to court records, Moeller abducted Becky O’Connell from a Sioux Falls convenience store where she had gone to buy candy and repeatedly raped and stabbed her. Her body was found in a wooded area the next morning with extensive knife wounds.

Moeller was convicted of rape and murder and sentenced to death in 1992, but was granted a new trial after the state Supreme Court ruled that testimony of previous attempted sexual assaults on three other people should not have been permitted.

Moeller was convicted and sentenced to death again in 1997. He continued appeals until recent weeks but at a federal court hearing in early October he admitted the crimes.

“If the rape and murder of Rebecca O’Connell does not deserve the death penalty, then I guess nothing does,” Moeller told the judge, according to court records.

Executions have been rare in South Dakota. Before this year, the state had put to death only two inmates since 1913. On Oct 15, it executed Eric Robert on October 15 for the killing of prison guard Ron Johnson during a failed escape attempt.

If Moeller’s lethal injection is carried out on Tuesday, he will be the 34th inmate executed in the United States in 2012, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

South Dakota covers up source of death penalty drugs ahead of execution


Prison authorities in South Dakota are refusing to release information on contaminated drugs made to order for an execution tonight (30 October).

The so-called ‘DIY drugs’ – doses of the barbiturate pentobarbital produced by a compounding pharmacy for the South Dakota Department of Corrections (DOC) – were used to execute Eric Robert earlier this month, with alarming results. Robert’s eyes opened during the lethal injection process, a sign that he may not have been properly anaesthetised and the execution may have been botched.

The ingredients used to make the drugs used in Eric Robert’s execution – and set to be used this evening in that of Donald Moeller – were found to have been contaminated with fungus.

However, despite these indications that the drugs may be faulty, and therefore carrying a risk of unnecessary suffering for the prisoner, South Dakota has thus far refused to disclose any information on how they were obtained.

The drugs are known to have been made by a compounding pharmacy – a service which allows batches of drugs to be made up to order, thereby allowing customers to bypass mainstream pharmaceutical suppliers which face more comprehensive regulation. The compounding pharmacy industry has been in the spotlight lately after reports linked it to a widespread outbreak of meningitis in the US.

South Dakota DOC had previously intended to use drugs they had illegally imported from a supplier in India in the executions, but these drugs expired last month.

Maya Foa, investigator for the legal charity Reprieve said: “The use of these DIY execution drugs means that we have little idea of just what is being injected into prisoners’ veins. It is no surprise that prison authorities appear so desperate to cover up any information on where they have come from, or who made them. The South Dakota Department of Corrections must come clean: it is indefensible for the ultimate punishment to be carried out in this slipshod and unaccountable manner.”

SOUTH DAKOTA – Execution – ERIC ROBERT- Monday 10/15/2012 10 P.M EXECUTED 10.24 p.m


Eric Robert, 50, received lethal injection and was pronounced dead at the state penitentiary in Sioux Falls at 10:24 p.m. He is the first South Dakota inmate to die under the state’s new single-drug lethal injection method, and only the 17th person to be executed in the state or Dakota Territory since 1877.

Robert had no expression on his face. Asked if he had a last statement, Robert said: “In the name of justice and liberty and mercy, I authorize and forgive Warden Douglas Weber to execute me for the crimes. It is done.”

 

October 14, 2012 argusleader.com

October 12, 2012FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: Michael Winder, Communications & Information Manager
Execution date, time set for Inmate Eric Robert
(Pierre, S.D.)- In accordance with South Dakota Codified Law 23A-27A-17, Doug Weber, Director of Prison Operations and Warden of the South Dakota State  Penitentiary, has set the date and time for the execution of Inmate Eric Robert as Monday, October 15, 2012 at approximately 10:00 p.m. CDT.
State law allows for the judge in a capital punishment case to appoint a week for the execution to occur. The exact date and time of the execution is left to the warden’s discretion. The warden is required by state law to publicly announce the scheduled day and hour of the execution not less than forty-eight hours prior to the execution.

perp walk

Eric Robert’s life bears little resemblance to that of his peers on death row.

Most condemned killers have troubling personal stories and long criminal histories.

Donald Moeller was beaten, demeaned and made to watch his biological mother’s drug use and sexual behavior. Elijah Page, executed in 2007, moved from house to house with substance-abusing parents then bounced from foster home to foster home in several states.

Rodney Berget suffered with an alcoholic father and abuse, and was first sent to the adult prison system at age 15. His brother, Roger, was executed in 2003 in Oklahoma, eight years before Rodney Berget and Robert would commit a capital crime in the murder of Corrections Officer Ron Johnson.

Robert’s life looked nothing like Berget’s. He will be put to death at 10 p.m. Monday.

Robert was the child of a single mother who helped raise his younger sister in his home state of Wisconsin. He had a stellar academic record, put himself through college and had a successful career in wastewater treatment. He was an emergency medical technician and frequent community volunteer who once helped erect a monument to a murdered sheriff.

He grew close to his longest-term love interest through her son, whom Robert coached on a Little League team.

In 2005, before he was sentenced to 80 years in prison for a Meade County kidnapping, his sister told the judge that her brother “has done more good in his life than many people in this world.”

This week, the state of South Dakota intends to put Robert to death by lethal injection for the brutal, premeditated killing of Johnson on April 12, 2011.

The rage that fueled the killing was a measure of how far he’d fallen from the life he once had. Robert said so himself in court one year ago. He’d refused to let his lawyer mention his good deeds.

“To be honest with you, the good acts that I’ve done in my life were not mentioned here, because they are irrelevant to these proceedings,” Robert said. “That person who did good things no longer exists.” 

Last week, through his lawyer Mark Kadi, Robert reiterated his reasoning for staying quiet about his prior kind acts during sentencing for the Johnson murder “My client feels that none of the good things he’s done justify the killing of Ron Johnson,” Kadi said.

Eric Robert was born May 31, 1962, in Massachusetts. His father was gone by the time he was 6 months old. Robert, his mother and younger sister moved to Hayward, Wis., when he still was young.

His sister, Jill Stalter, declined to comment for this story but testified on her brother’s behalf in 2005.

She said then that Robert was the father figure in their house as their mother worked three jobs and studied to earn a college degree.

“My brother took care of everything. He took out the trash, he made sure dinner was on the table, he even did grocery shopping. He got me my first dog. He did everything. He even shoveled snow, and in Hayward, it’s a lot of snow,” Stalter said. “He put himself through college by working weekends and during summer breaks. He didn’t take a penny from my mother because she was putting herself through college.”

He was a good student, as well, graduating 18th in his class at Hayward High School in 1980. He returned to Hayward after earning a biology degree with a chemistry minor at the University of Wisconsin-Superior.

In 2000, he applied for a job as the wastewater treatment supervisor for the city of Superior. On his job application, released as part of a records request by the Argus Leader, Robert wrote that he hadn’t missed a day of work in 10 years.

He got along well with co-workers. Frog Prell, the city attorney, started work for the city in 2000, just a few months after Robert, whom family and friends knew as “Ranger.”

Robert used to drop by the office to joke around, quiz Prell about small towns in Wyoming, which is Prell’s home state. The short interactions left an impression on Prell, who didn’t know Robert was on death row until the records request came across desk this month.

“If you’d have asked me what I thought about Eric Robert before this, I’d have said he seemed like a pretty cool guy,” Prell said.

Dan Romans, the wastewater administrator for Superior, called Robert a “natural-born leader” who accomplished more in 18 months on the job than others had for decades.

Robert eventually lost his job in Superior, though, because he failed to comply with a city residence requirement, but he continued to consult with the city afterward.

He was living in a home in the rural community of Drummond, more than an hour southeast of Superior.

Violent toward women

It was in Hayward, almost a decade before, where he met the woman with whom he’d later build the house in Drummond.

That woman, who testified at Robert’s presentence hearing last year in Sioux Falls but declined to comment for this story, said there was an undercurrent of anger in him even then — one most people didn’t see.

“He was an aggressive, mean person who didn’t like other people and had to be in control,” she said the woman, whom the Argus Leader is not identifying because she is a victim.

She’d gone to high school with Robert but didn’t know him well at the time. They got reacquainted in 1992, when he was coaching her son’s baseball team. Robert soon was living with the woman and her two children.

“We got along fine at first,” she said, but then “he showed me his true colors.”

She recounted three specific incidents in court from their decade-long romance.

They rented an apartment in Cable, Wis., as they built their house, she said. One day, as they sat on the couch together, Robert backhanded her over an offhand remark.

She hit him back, she said, then recoiled when she realized that he was sure to retaliate.

“He punched me in the mouth so hard it pushed my bottom teeth through my lip,” she said.

Robert, who knew most of the employees in the local ER through his work as an EMT, told the doctors and nurses she’d slipped on icy steps while carrying in groceries.

He had similar explanation for her appearance at the ER with a broken foot years later. She called police on him after a separation, when he showed up at her house drunk and started a fight that ended with him pulling her around the yard by her hair.

 read full article : click here

 

South Dakota set to execute two on death row – Robert due next week; Moeller wants his lawyers dismissed


October 9, 2012 http://www.argusleader.com

State Department of Corrections officials gave media representatives a tour Tuesday of the execution chamber and holding cell where death row inmates Eric Robert and Donald Moeller will live out the last minutes of their lives later this month.

Robert, 50, has pleaded guilty to the 2011 murder of corrections officer Ron Johnson and is scheduled to die by lethal injection sometime next week. Moeller, 60, was twice convicted of rape and murder in the 1990 death of Becky O’Connell and is scheduled to be executed the week of Oct. 28-Nov. 3.

Though Moeller’s execution date has been set, U.S. District Judge Larry Piersol still has to decide on Moeller’s request to cease any further action on a constitutional challenge to the state’s execution method by injection. The judge’s decision on the matter is expected any day.

Arkansas lawyers appointed at the federal level to represent Moeller want to continue with the challenge and have asked Piersol to find that Moeller isn’t competent to make decisions in his case. On Tuesday, Moeller sent a letter to Piersol reiterating that he wants the Arkansas lawyers removed as his counsel.

Also Tuesday, media representatives shot photographs and video in what inmates call the old hospital section of the state penitentiary.

The death chamber is a square room with a table in the middle that sits on a cylindrical metal pedestal.

A white mattress rests on the table with armrests to each side. Four leather straps are draped across the mattress for now, and there are leather straps on the armrests and at the foot of the mattress.

There are two windows on each of the west and north walls with blinds closed over them Tuesday. There are four separate offices on the other sides of the windows from which witnesses will watch the execution. Red letters above each window designate them as “A,” “B,” “C” and “D.”

A one-way mirrored window on the east wall hides what prison officials call “the chemical room” on the other side. There are four digital clocks in the execution chamber — each gives the time, the date and the temperature in the room. A long, black rod hangs down from the ceiling over the mattress with a microphone attached to it.

Just east of the execution chamber are three holding cells where Robert and Moeller will be housed before their executions.

Each cell has a toilet, a sink and a bed, as well as a white cabinet with three, open shelves that sits just to the right as you enter.

State statute allows the court to set the week of a scheduled execution, then leaves it to the warden to set a specific day and time depending on the needs of the institution and execution requirements, said Corrections spokesman Michael Winder.

The last inmate to be executed in South Dakota, Elijah Page, was put to death July 11, 2007, at the state penitentiary in Sioux Falls

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?”

UPCOMING – EXECUTIONS – SEPTEMBER 2012


Dates are subject to change due to stays and appeals

Pennsylvania execution dates and stays are generally not listed because the state routinely sets execution dates before all appeals have been exhausted.

September
09/15/2012

Rodney Berget

South Dakota

 Stayed
09/13/2012

Michael Travaglia

Pennsylvania

 Stayed

09/20/2012

Donald Palmer

Ohio

 Executed   10.35 a.m

09/20/2012

09/25/2012

Robert Harris

Cleve Foster

Texas

Texas

 ExecutedExecuted   06.43 p.m.

6.43 p.m

UPCOMING – Executions – OCTOBER 2012


UPDATE OCTOBER 31

Dates are subject to change due to stays and appeals

Pennsylvania execution dates and stays are generally not listed because the state routinely sets execution dates before all appeals have been exhausted.

OCTOBER 2012    
3 Terrance Williams Pennsylvania Stayed  
9 Terry Chamberlain Pennsylvania Stayed                                  
10 Andre Slaton Pennsylvania Stayed  
10 Jonathan Green Texas Executed 10.45 P .M                                                                                                   
11 David Ramtahal Pennsylvania Stayed
18 Anthony Haynes Texas Stayed  
19 Eric Robert South Dakota Executed 10:43 P.M
23 John ferguson Florida STAYED  
24 Bobby Hines Texas STAYED
10/28-11/3 Donald Moeller South Dakota  Executed 10/30/2012  10:24 P.M
31 Donnie Roberts Texas  Executed  6.39 p.m

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.”

SOUTH DAKOTA – AG asks US Supreme Court to reject Moeller’s death-row appeal


may 7, 2012 source :http://www.mitchellrepublic.com

PIERRE (AP) — South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reject a death row inmate’s plea to overturn his conviction for raping and killing a Sioux Falls girl 22 years ago.

Donald Moeller last month petitioned the court to overturn his conviction based on what he described as incomplete jury instructions. Moeller maintains that the jury that sentenced him to death for the 1990 rape and murder of 9-year-old Becky O’Connell should have been told he would not have been eligible for parole had jurors sentenced him to life in prison. He contends that he might have received the death penalty because jurors falsely thought he could eventually be released on parole if given a life sentence.

Jackley on Monday said that the brief filed by the state in response to Moeller’s claim says jury instructions “fully comply with settled law and constitutional standards.”

Moeller was convicted and sentenced to die in 1997. The state Supreme Court affirmed the sentence, and Moeller has lost appeals on both the state and federal levels.

Moeller was convicted of abducting the girl from a convenience store, driving her to a secluded area, then raping and killing her. Her body was found the next day with a slashed throat and stab wounds.

Moeller initially was convicted in 1992 but the state Supreme Court ruled that improper evidence was used at trial and overturned the conviction.

“Two juries of South Dakota citizens have heard the facts of this case and both unanimously decided that Moeller’s crime warranted a death sentence,” Jackley said in a statement. “Twenty-two years and seven appeals to hold Moeller accountable and to await justice for Becky and her family is clearly too long.”