South Dakota schedules first execution in five years

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 24, 2012 2:40 PM
South Dakota schedules first execution in five years

By David Bailey

(Reuters) - A South Dakota inmate, who killed a prison guard during a failed escape attempt, has been scheduled to die by lethal injection in October in what would be the state's first execution in five years, officials said on Friday.

Eric Robert, who had pleaded guilty to the first-degree murder of guard Ronald Johnson at the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls, waived his right to let a jury decide whether the death penalty should be imposed and has sought execution.

Robert had been serving an 80-year term for the 2005 kidnapping of a young woman when he tried to escape in April 2011.

South Dakota Circuit Court Judge Bradley Zell issued the warrant for the execution, which is set to be carried out anytime from October 14 through October 20 under South Dakota law, the state attorney general said on Friday.

The warden at the state penitentiary sets the date and time for the execution, which is announced publicly within 48 hours of the actual date under state law, the attorney general said.

The South Dakota Supreme Court last week upheld the death penalty, adding Robert's consistent attempts to have the execution carried out quickly had no impact on its ruling.

Robert and another inmate, Rodney Berget, assaulted Johnson with a lead pipe, fracturing his skull in at least three places and exposing part of his brain. They then wrapped the guard's head in plastic, according to the Supreme Court opinion.

Robert then dressed in Johnson's uniform, and attempted to escape along with Berget. They assaulted another guard in the attempt, but were stopped inside the prison.

Executions are rare in South Dakota. There have been 16 since 1877; 14 by hanging through 1913, according to the state corrections department. One man was executed by electrocution in 1946 and another by lethal injection in 2007.

Berget also pleaded guilty and was sentenced to death, according to the South Dakota attorney general's office.

(Reporting by David Bailey in Minneapolis; Editing by Greg McCune and Leslie Gevirtz)