Former Superior man to be executed in South DakotaSouth Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard says he does not plan to intervene in today’s execution of a former Superior resident.
By: Kristi Eaton, Mitchell (S.D.) Daily Republic
South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard says he does not plan to intervene in today’s execution of a former Superior resident.
Eric Donald Robert, 50, is scheduled to die by lethal injection at 10 p.m. for the killing of prison guard Ronald Johnson during a failed escape attempt at the state penitentiary in Sioux Falls.
Daugaard said in a statement that he has no reason to change the judgment reached by the criminal justice system. He said state law allows him to conduct his own investigation, which he did with the cooperation of Attorney General Marty Jackley.
Robert did not appeal his sentence and asked a judge for the death penalty, saying if left alive he would kill again.
Another inmate involved in the killing of the prison guard, 50-year-old Rodney Berget, was serving life sentences for attempted murder and kidnapping when he tried to escape with Robert, a 1980 Hayward High School graduate who was serving 80 years for a 2005 kidnapping conviction.
The two men attacked and killed Johnson, who was alone in a part of the prison where inmates work on upholstery, signs, custom furniture and other projects. Robert put on Johnson’s uniform and tried to move a large box toward the prison gate with Berget inside.
The inmates were caught before leaving the prison.
Berget and Robert pleaded guilty in the April 12, 2011, killing. Prosecutors said the two bashed Johnson with a pipe and covered his mouth with plastic wrap at the state penitentiary on Johnson’s 63rd birthday.
Robert asked Judge Brad Zell to sentence him to death, and Zell found there was at least one aggravating factor to warrant the death penalty. A few months later, Berget appeared before Zell to be sentenced after waiving his right to a jury trial.
A third inmate has been sentenced to life in prison for his involvement in the escape attempt.
Robert lived in several northwestern Wisconsin cities in the 30 years after his graduation in Hayward. About 10 years ago, he was a supervisor for the city of Superior crew that cleans the city’s sewer pipes.
A woman in the Superior Public Works Department who declined to give her name said she knew Robert and got along with him. She said that Robert was eccentric and there would be mixed reactions about him among city workers who knew him.
The Sawyer County Record, the newspaper in Hayward, said Robert was the wastewater treatment supervisor for six years at Telemark Resort while living in the Cable-Drummond area. He had been a Little League coach while living in Hayward.
In 2005, Robert was accused of posing as a police officer and pulling over a car driven by an 18-year-old woman. He put her in the trunk of the car and she called police with her cell phone. Robert had left the scene when police arrived. Officers later found a shovel, rope and mattress in Robert’s pickup bed.
He later would say that he was drunk and intended to steal money from the woman.
He was sentenced to 80 years for the crime.
In court for the guard killing last fall, the woman in the kidnapping case testified.
An ex-girlfriend testified as well, detailing years of physical abuse from Robert from 1994 to 2001.
If Robert is executed for the prison guard killing, it would be the first death penalty carried out in South Dakota since 2007.
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 of South Dakota, the Department of Corrections and several DOC officials.
Berget appealed Oct. 1, saying he did not receive a fair trial in the penalty phase of the case. A lawyer for Berget argued his death penalty should be overturned because the judge already had sentenced the other inmate to die by lethal injection. The South Dakota Supreme Court will issue its opinion in the case, presumably before Robert’s execution.
News Tribune staff writer Mike Creger contributed to this report, as did the Associated Press. The Mitchell Daily Republic of Mitchell, S.D., and the News Tribune are Forum Communications Co. newspapers.