Lawyer: Robert wanted to die if escape failedA man executed for killing a South Dakota prison guard wanted to commit suicide and saw the death penalty law as an incentive, the man’s attorney says.
By: AP, The Associated Press
A man executed for killing a South Dakota prison guard wanted to commit suicide and saw the death penalty law as an incentive, the man’s attorney says.
Eric Robert was put to death last week for killing the guard, Ronald “R.J.” Johnson, when he and fellow inmate Rodney Berget tried to break out of the prison in April 2011.
Robert pleaded guilty in September 2011 to killing Johnson, asked for a death sentence and objected to a South Dakota Supreme Court review of his case.
Robert was serving an 80-year prison term for kidnapping at the time of his attempted escape. His lawyer, Mark Kadi, said Robert wanted to end his own life rather than languish in prison, and planned his escape so that he would be eligible for a death sentence if unsuccessful.
“The availability of the death penalty encouraged rather than discouraged Robert to commit this crime,” Kadi wrote in a letter. “I know this because Eric told me so.”
Robert was familiar with South Dakota’s death penalty law, and knew that killing a corrections officer while trying to escape would make it more likely he would be sentenced to death, Kadi wrote.
South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley disputed Kadi’s version of events, saying that evidence in the case “points to this being a poorly planned, poorly executed escape attempt.”
Jackley pointed out that Robert had said he would kill again if he were not executed.
“I can’t say if the death penalty will deter others from committing crimes in the future, but it deterred Eric Robert from committing any other crimes,” Jackley said.
Kadi said his client felt “hopeless” in prison, and that he tried unsuccessfully to kill himself with a drug overdose. “Robert viewed a life sentence as being identical to a death sentence with the exception that the latter had a set date,” Kadi said. “Robert believed he needed to get out, one way or the other.”
Richard Dieter, director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said Robert’s statements about his wish to die and the speed at which his execution was carried out made his case unusual.
It usually takes more than a decade for a death sentence to be carried out, center statistics say.
Of the 32 executions that have taken place in the United States this year, Robert’s is the only one that happened within a year of the sentence. The second shortest delay was six years.