South Dakota to execute man who killed guard in escape attempt

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 15, 2012 6:00 AM
South Dakota to execute man who killed guard in escape attempt

(Reuters) - South Dakota is set to execute on Monday a convicted murderer who has sought to expedite his own execution for the killing of a prison guard during a failed escape attempt.

In what would be the state's first execution since 2007, Eric Robert, 50, is scheduled to die by lethal injection at 10 p.m. local time (0300 GMT on Tuesday) at the state prison in Sioux Falls, where he and fellow inmate Rodney Berget killed guard Ronald Johnson and attacked other officers during the April 2011 escape attempt.

Robert had served five years of an 80-year sentence for kidnapping when he tried to escape. The attempt that had been planned for more than a month, court documents showed.

Later, he pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, waived his right to have a jury decide whether a death sentence should be imposed, and asked to be executed. Berget was also sentenced to death in the killing.

According to court documents, Robert and Berget beat Johnson with a lead pipe, fracturing his skull and exposing his brain, wrapped the guard's head in plastic to keep him from breathing or crying out and then concealed his body.

Robert put on Johnson's uniform while Berget hid on a cart which Robert pushed toward a prison gate. However, a guard challenged Robert when he failed to swipe an ID card and demanded that he identify himself.

In an ensuing melee, Berget and Robert beat another guard with a radio taken from Johnson, and while Berget continued that attack Robert tried to scale a prison wall, but became entangled in razor wire.

They finally surrendered after they failed to bait officers into shooting them, according to court documents.

The South Dakota Supreme Court upheld Robert's sentence in August in a review required by state law. Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard has declined to stop the execution.

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Thirty-one prisoners have been executed in the United States in 2012, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Executions have been rare in South Dakota - there were 14 by hanging from 1877 through 1913 and two since then.

Robert's execution could be the first of two in October. South Dakota is scheduled to execute Donald Moeller for the 1990 rape and murder of 9-year-old Becky O'Connell the week of October 28 to November 3. The prison warden sets a specific date and time for an execution under state law.

(Reporting by David Bailey; editing by Cynthia Johnston and Mohammad Zargham)