Berget granted stay of execution during appeal
PIERRE (AP) — The execution of a South Dakota inmate convicted of killing a Sioux Falls prison guard has been delayed while he appeals.
Rodney Berget, 51, was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection the week of Jan. 12. In an order dated Monday and released Tuesday, Supreme Court Chief Justice David Gilbertson issued a stay of execution while Berget's appeal proceeds.
Berget pleaded guilty to killing State Penitentiary guard Ronald Johnson during a botched escape attempt in April 2011. The state Supreme Court in January overturned his initial death sentence because justices said Circuit Judge Brad Zell improperly considered a statement Berget made to a psychiatrist. Zell resentenced him to death last May. Berget's attorney, Jeff Larson, last week requested a stay of execution while he appeals.
Larson was in court Tuesday morning and not immediately available for comment on the Supreme Court order, his office said.
Attorney General Marty Jackley, who opposed Larson's request, said he respects the authority of the court to issue a stay. He plans to begin preparing for the next step in the appeals process, in which attorneys will file written arguments.
"It will be the state's position that this is a valid conviction and sentence, and we intend to provide the necessary filings to support that position," he said.
Johnson was killed on his 63rd birthday. Authorities said Berget and Eric Robert, 50, struck Johnson with a pipe and covered his mouth with plastic wrap. Robert then donned Johnson's uniform and tried to push Berget, hidden inside a box, outside the prison's gate.
Berget was serving life sentences for attempted murder and kidnapping, and Robert was serving 80 years for kidnapping.
Robert was executed last October. A third inmate, Michael Nordman, was sentenced in February 2012 to life in prison for providing materials used in the slaying.
The prison made more than a dozen procedural changes after Johnson's death to improve security and safety. Johnson's widow, Lynette Johnson, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the state, the Department of Corrections and several DOC officials.