After a nearly six-hour delay, Rodney Berget was executed Monday for his role in the 2011 murder of correction officer Ron “RJ” Johnson at the state penitentiary. A motion to stay the execution reached the United States Supreme Court, which ultimately ruled in favor of the preceding litigation and the South Dakota Supreme Court’s decision.
As the scheduled execution time neared, about 40 anti-death penalty demonstrators stood in silent prayer for Rodney Berget and others impacted by the case.
Denny Davis is the director of South Dakotans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. He says incarceration without parole is a better and cheaper option than execution. He calls the death penalty state-sponsored homicide.
“And because Rodney has given up his appeals, it’s state-sponsored suicide," explains Davis. "And every execution that’s happened since 1979 in South Dakota, they have given up their appeals or they’ve committed suicide in the prison.”
Across the drive, Johnson family members and supporters stood near the sign for the Ron “RJ” Johnson Training Academy—named for the victim of Berget and fellow inmate Eric Robert’s failed escape attempt. Some carried flags featuring Johnson’s picture.
The execution was initially scheduled for 1:30. After waiting for a final ruling from the U-S Supreme Court, corrections staff completed the execution shortly after 7:30 Monday evening.
South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley prosecuted the case. He believes if the death penalty did not exist in South Dakota, Berget would have killed again.
“It would be another correction officer, a nurse attending to him," says Jackley. "The fact that he had shot two individuals, had kidnapped and abused a young store clerk, and then while serving two life sentences takes the life of a correction officer shows how dangerous he really is.”
Jackley says nothing can bring RJ Johnson back to his family, but he hopes this can bring some closure to his loved ones.
Berget was the 19th execution in South Dakota history.