A bill to end the death penalty in South Dakota failed in the state legislature. State Senator Art Rusch, who spent many years as a prosecutor and circuit judge, brought Senate Bill 94 to the House State Affairs Committee Wednesday.
Testimony on both sides was often emotional. Lynnette Johnson of Sioux Falls lost her husband on his 63rd birthday in 2011. Ronald “RJ” Johnson was attacked and killed during an escape attempt by two men serving life prison terms. Johnson’s widow is opposed to repealing executions in the state.
“Can you imagine the pain? Look at his hands, look at his fingers. This is his finger; look at it. Look at it. He fought so hard to stay with us—can you imagine? Just until his hands couldn’t take it anymore. Until his hands couldn’t take it anymore—he had to drop his hands," Johnson says. "And you know what? They didn’t have to, because there was certainly nobody around to help Ron; he was in this building by himself. But look it. Look what they did to my Ron.”
Compare Lynnette Johnson’s thoughts to those of SuZanne Bosler, whose father was stabbed 24 times and died of his wounds. Bosler told the Senate State Affairs Committee she had a chance to have her father’s killer put to death—and didn’t.
“I considered, and I learned that James Byrd Campbell’s title, like everybody else on Death Row, is ‘murderer.’ And I felt if I was going to help the government plan to kill him, then that would be my title too. And I refuse—I refuse to be like him. I refuse to be like him," Bosler says. "I hold onto my father’s belief in the sanctity of life—his integrity, his true convictions on how precious life was—everybody’s life was to him.”
Attorney General Marty Jackley says he’s aware of the strong feelings for and against executions in the state. He says his job is to protect innocent lives in South Dakota.
"And unfortunately, in our society there are just some individuals that are so dangerous, so vile, that in order to protect innocent life, you might have to take a life,” Jackley says.
The State Affairs Committee defeated a “do pass” motion on the measure; members then deferred Senate Bill 94 to the 41st Legislative Day.