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High Court Won't Overturn Death Sentence

Kealey Bultena

A South Dakota death row inmate’s conviction and sentence stand. A ruling from the United States Supreme Court Monday denies Rodney Berget’s request to overturn the state court’s decision. This puts an end to any direct appeals to his murder conviction and capital sentence.

Correctional Officer Ron Johnson died a violent death in May of 2011 when two inmates at the South Dakota State Penitentiary tried to escape from prison. Eric Robert and Rodney Berget were caught, tried, and convicted in the killing.

Eric Robert died by lethal injection in October 2012. Rodney Berget is fighting his death sentence. The State Supreme Court reversed Berget’s first death sentence, but he received the same punishment at a second sentencing.

Berget sits on death row and is appealing his capital sentence. South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley says this week the US Supreme Court refused to overturn Berget’s murder conviction and death sentence so he can include additional evidence related to family connections.

"This evidence was heard in the initial proceedings. It’s Exhibit C of the defense’s own exhibits. It is a matter that is contained within the original sentencing order of the trial judge. So we’ve really taken the position that, first of all, it’s really been heard. Second of all, he’s waived any right to put in additional type of evidence, and that the matter really needs to move forward, that he’s received his due process, and – in the interest of justice – the sentence should be carried through," Jackley says.

Berget’s execution is scheduled sometime the week of May 3, 2015 – at least for now. The Attorney General says a stay of execution could be necessary if Berget lodges habeas appeals.

"It’s any constitutional concerns, but we commonly do see in the habeas proceedings are the claim of ineffective assistance of counsel during either the trial stage or the sentencing stage," Jackley says. 

Jackley says the inmate could file those appeals on state or federal grounds . Monday’s ruling from the US Supreme Court ends Berget’s opportunities for direct appeals.

Kealey Bultena grew up in South Dakota, where her grandparents took advantage of the state’s agriculture at nap time, tricking her into car rides to “go see cows.” Rarely did she stay awake long enough to see the livestock, but now she writes stories about the animals – and the legislature and education and much more. Kealey worked in television for four years while attending the University of South Dakota. She started interning with South Dakota Public Broadcasting in September 2010 and accepted a position with television in 2011. Now Kealey is the radio news producer stationed in Sioux Falls. As a multi-media journalist, Kealey prides herself on the diversity of the stories she tells and the impact her work has on people across the state. Kealey is always searching for new ideas. Let her know of a great story! Find her on Facebook and twitter (@KealeySDPB).
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