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Jackley Talks About Death Penalty Reversal

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The South Dakota Supreme Court announced a shocking decision on Thursday. Justices have decided to overturn the death sentence of convicted killer, Rodney Berget.

The attack took place nearly two years ago.  On his 63rd birthday, Officer Ronald Johnson was beaten to death by inmates Rodney Berget and Eric Robert as both were trying to escape. Berget pleaded guilty to 1st degree murder and was sentenced by Judge Bradley Zell to die by lethal injection.  Three months ago Berget’s attorney, Jeff Larson, argued before the South Dakota Supreme Court saying Berget didn’t receive a fair sentence.

“My client didn't have a chance anyway,” said Larson in October.

Ultimately the high court decided the sentence was appropriate...except for one issue. Justices say when making his decision, Judge Zell considered statements Berget made to a psychiatrist.  The psychiatrist was never called to the stand. The South Dakota Supreme Court found by admitting the statements, the circuit court violated Berget’s rights against self-incrimination. Their decision to reverse Berget’s death sentence means Berget will return back to the courtroom for a new sentencing hearing.

Although it was not the decision Attorney General Marty Jackley had hoped for, his reaction was positive.

Attorney General Marty Jackley says, “It was a good decision on 11 of the 12 issues. Now we have the opportunity in the court room to go back in, make sure we do it right, and make sure the right evidence is considered. I anticipate that we'll be filing a motion in the next day or two to try and move this forward with respect to that limited scope of the psychological evaluation.”

Jackley says the psychiatric report will not be included in the new hearing and he feels there is still plenty of evidence to warrant the death penalty.

Ronald Johnson’s widow, Lynette Johnson says she is devastated by the ruling.

In the 63-page document explaining the South Dakota Supreme Court’s decision, it’s noted that Berget has been disciplined at least 4 times for escape attempts. He has been classified as a maximum security risk since 2003.
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