Last month we wrote that SD death row inmate Rodney Berget (or rather his lawyer, SDPJC member Jeff Larson) was challenging the state’s “one drug cocktail” for lethal injection. Looks like Mr. Berget may have won himself a reprieve on other grounds, as the Argus Leader reports:
The South Dakota Supreme Court has reversed the death sentence of an inmate who pleaded guilty to killing a senior corrections officer.
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. His co-defendant, Eric Robert, was executed for the crime in October.
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.”
Now, the court only found fault with the judge’s consideration of the psychiatric statements, not with the vast majority of the evidence. It’s not as if Berget’s guilt is at question here – he has freely admitted to committing the very same murder that cost Eric Robert his life last October, and his case is being remanded for re-sentencing. But we at the SD Peace & Justice Center welcome any move that challenges, if only in this case, the power of the State of SD to kill.