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January 3, 2013

South Dakota Supreme Court reverses death sentence given to lifer for killing guard

As reported in this local article, the "South Dakota Supreme Court has reversed the death sentence of an inmate who pleaded guilty to killing a senior corrections officer."  Here are the basics:

The high court ruled that statements made by 50-year-old Rodney Berget during a competency hearing were improperly considered by the judge who sentenced him to death. Berget pleaded guilty to the murder of Officer Ronald “R.J.” Johnson months after the murder, which was part of an escape attempt on April 12, 2011....

The high court ruled that the judge had properly considered the majority of the evidence in issuing a death sentence to Berget and called the question about statements to the psychiatrist “a close issue.”  Former Chief Justice Robert Miller, who sat in for Justice Lori Wilbur in the case, wrote a dissent stating that he felt the sentence ought to be affirmed.

Berget and Robert killed Johnson with a metal pipe and wrapped his head in plastic that day, after which Robert donned Johnson’s uniform and Berget climbed into a box atop a wheeled cart.  The two were captured at the prison’s west gate as Robert was attempting to push the cart off the penitentiary grounds.

Both men pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and waived their right to a trial by jury on the question of a death sentence.  Judge Bradley Zell sentenced both men to death in separate hearings. Robert did not challenge his sentence, which was affirmed by the South Dakota Supreme Court after a mandatory review.  He was executed by lethal injection on Oct. 15.

Berget challenged his sentence on the grounds that Judge Zell had considered statements he’d made to a psychiatrist in Dec. 2011 that implied he’d pleaded guilty in part to get a death sentence.

The full rulling of the SD Supreme Court in this matter can be accessed at this link

January 3, 2013 at 05:45 PM | Permalink

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Comments

“-“ We cannot conclude that the use of this statement [from report] was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.”-”
“-“ defense counsel submitted Dr. Bean’s report”-”

Use of defense counsel’s report must surely have been “so prejudicial as to inflame the passions of the circuit court”, as alleged. Their malleable minds are hair-triggered to irrationally emote.

Sounds like sufficient grounds to reverse any sentence, regardless of the evidence.

Posted by: Adamakis | Jan 4, 2013 9:23:47 AM

I hope they succeed in getting Berget another death sentence. There is no other appropriate sentence in this case.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Jan 4, 2013 2:13:14 PM

I think this ruthless killer should lose his cafeteria privilege.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jan 6, 2013 3:37:46 PM

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