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Rodney Berget Wants To End Appeal

Kealey Bultena
Minnehaha County Courthouse

Convicted killer Rodney Berget says he wants to stop an appeal that’s preventing him from being put to death, but his attorney can't support the move. The issues are enough to delay major action in Rodney Berget’s case for a few months.

Rodney Berget was in a Minnehaha County courtroom Friday. He wants to end his execution appeal.

Judge Douglas Hoffman asked if he understood that waiving his rights is a path to execution. Berget responded "yes".

That wasn’t enough for the judge to authorize a path to execution that day.

Berget’s lawyer Eric Shulte says he wants to complete an investigation to determine Berget’s intellectual stability in case he has a disability. Berget told the judge he disagrees with his attorney. He told the judge about his lawyers, "They can do what they want... His beliefs are his beliefs. I'm not gonna tell him the way he should feel or not to say those words."

Credit Kealey Bultena / SDPB
SD Attorney General Marty Jackley talks with members of the media while Lynette Johnson (right) listens. Johnson is the widow of the correctional officer murdered in 2011.

South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley says Berget has the right to make his own decisions and no evidence exists that Berget is intellectually unfit.

"As I indicated in open court, I disagreed with some of his positions, but I certainly respect those positions," Jackley says. "And that’s part of what’s going to happen in the next 60 to 90 days is how this proceeds from there and what the court’s rulings are on a defense attorney’s obligations."

The judge says wants a status hearing in 60 to 90 days, which gives both sides the opportunity to file paperwork. Then he can decide if he should lift the stay of execution so the state can request a warrant for Berget’s death.

Rodney Berget was an inmate in 2011 when he and another man, Eric Robert, tried to break out of prison. They killed a correctional officer. Robert and Berget were tried and sentenced separately, but their actions were similar in the beginning.

"That they had attempted an escape and had killed senior correction officer RJ Johnson, that they felt that they were moving forward to having a voluntary execution, that at sentencing that certainly was the route that Robert went and that there was a stronger defense put up, so to speak, in the Berget sentencing – almost a change of course," Jackley says. "And I think what we heard today and what we’ve seen in some of the letters and some of the references by the court is that this proceeding has now put us back on the course that we saw at the original Berget plea hearing."

Jackley says letters from Berget contain some reasoning for the decision, but he can’t talk about them right now because those documents are sealed.

Eric Robert died by lethal injection in October 2012.

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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