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January 30, 2012 05:58 PM

Attorney: Berget Not A Monster

Sioux Falls, SD

He may have killed a South Dakota Correctional Officer during a failed prison escape last April, but the attorney for inmate Rodney Berget says his client is not a monster.

Monday was the first day of a week-long sentencing for Berget, who has admitted to killing Correctional Officer Ron Johnson with fellow-inmate Eric Robert.

Berget is facing the death penalty.  Robert was sentenced to death three months ago.

On April 12, 2011, Berget was the one who was hiding inside a box on a cart as Robert tried to push it through the west gate of the South Dakota State Penitentiary dressed in Johnson's uniform.

Berget and Robert have both admitted in court to killing Johnson with a metal pipe and shrink wrap, stealing his uniform and trying to sneak out the prison walls. While this was the most serious escape attempt Berget was involved in, it wasn't his first. It was said in court Monday that this was the eighth time that Berget had tried to break free from the prison.

"The state further anticipates providing evidence of seven documented escapes," Attorney General Marty Jackley said.

During his opening statement, the Attorney General laid out all the escape attempts Berget was involved in, including a 1987 escape when he broke out of prison with several other inmates.

"Berget and five other inmates escaped through an air shaft, tunneled and cut multiple sets of bars and breaching gates. This evidence demonstrates the lengths Berget will go to with respect to escape," Jackley said.

But Berget's attorney, Jeff Larson, says that his client has led a troubled life and has been in and out of prison since he was a teenager.

"Rodney was a child when he went to the South Dakota State Penitentiary, and I mean that he was only a child. He was 15 years old," Larson said.

Larson told Judge Brad Zell that even though this case is severe, the law still allows him to spare Berget's life.

"Despite all that he's been through, and despite two sets of horrible acts that he was involved with, Rodney is not a monster," Larson said.

South Dakota Prison Warden Doug Weber took the stand to testify Monday saying that Berget was a maximum security inmate at the time of the failed escape.

Listen to the hearing when it begins at 9 a.m. on Tuesday on the Live Coverage page.
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