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Supreme Court Hears Rodney Berget Appeal

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The South Dakota Supreme Court began it's October term at the University of Sioux Falls on Monday. The justices heard a number of cases including the appeal of 50-year-old Rodney Berget's death sentence.

You may remember, Berget pleaded guildty to killing correctional officer Ronald Johnson in a failed prison escape attempt in April of last year.

It was in November that Rodney Berget pleaded guilty to first degree murder. And earlier this year, Judge Bradley Zell sentenced him to death by lethal injection. But on Monday, in front of the South Dakota Supreme Court, Berget's Attorney Jeff Larson argued the sentence should be reversed.
Larson said, "My client didn't have a chance anyway."

Larson argued that Berget didn’t receive a fair sentence because his case was heard by the same judge who had already sentenced his co-defendent, Eric Robert, to death.

Larson asked, "What choice does he (Judge Zell) have?" "If he makes a factual finding different than what he does in Robert he brings into question the finding in Robert," said Larson.

But the state says Berget waived his right to a jury trial several times.

Larson also argued that a psychiatric evaluation of Berget should not have been considered during sentencing unless the doctor who wrote it testified. Since he wasn't called to the stand, Larson says it should not have been referenced in the judge's decision. The attorney general answers back by saying it shouldn't even be an issue.

Attorney General Marty Jackley said, "That report wasn't used against the defendent, it was found in favor of the defendent."

Finally, Larson argued that compared to other murders in South Dakota that resulted in death sentences, the attack was not vicious enough to warrant a death sentence. That's when Jackley, once again described what Berget had done to the correctional officer on his 63rd birthday.

Jackley said, "He rushed Officer Johnson striking him repeatedly with a metal pipe until he no longer moved for the stated purpose of killing him."

The court will not make a decision on Berget's appeal until a later date. So far, a deadline for the decision has not been set. But a decision is expected soon as it could call his co-defendent Eric Robert’s sentence into question.

Robert's execution is executed is scheduled to take place on the week of Oct. 14. A third inmate was sentenced to life in prison for his involvement in the crime.

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