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February 06, 2012 05:57 PM

AG: Death Penalty Exists For Cases Like Berget's

Sioux Falls, SD


Forty-nine-year-old Rodney Berget, who is already serving two life sentences, is now preparing for his execution.

Berget’s death sentence for his role in the killing of South Dakota Correctional Officer Ron Johnson during an escape attempt came down just before 11 a.m. Monday.

Berget's violent crimes, little remorse and eight attempted escapes from the walls of the South Dakota Penitentiary all played a role in his death sentence.

"The death penalty is reserved for the most heinous offenses such as the conduct that Rodney Berget exerted in this case," Attorney General Marty Jackley said.

Holding the hand of Johnson's widow and standing by the family he left behind, Jackley said after court that he hopes this sentence sends a message to other inmates.

"The prison is a very dangerous place with dangerous people, and this type of conduct cannot be tolerated. I think it is a deterrent effect to have the death penalty available for those very outrageous, heinous cases, very limited, as in this instance," Jackley said.

Berget is now the second inmate to be placed on death row for this crime in the last three months.

South Dakota Secretary of Corrections Denny Kaemingk was at the hearing to show support for the family and says his staff will be ready for the execution.

"The Department of Corrections will be prepared to carry out the sentence of the court," Kaemingk said.

Though Berget asked for this sentence during his four-day hearing last week, Jackley says getting the death penalty was never Berget's goal last April.

"I don't think this was him trying to end his life sentences via the death penalty. I think it was him trying to end his life sentences with an escape. That's what this case was about, was a selfish act of Rodney Berget to try to escape from the walls of the penitentiary," Jackley said.

While Berget and Eric Robert, the two who tried to escape, have now both been sentenced to death, this case isn't closed just yet.

A third inmate, Michael Nordman, who is charged with giving Berget and Robert the pipe and shrink wrap to commit the crime, will have a pre-trial hearing Thursday morning.

Jackley says his goal is to have that case wrapped up before the one-year anniversary of Johnson's death in April.
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