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February 06, 2012 09:59 PM

Capital Punishment in South Dakota, United States

Sioux Falls, SD


Rodney Berget's sentencing puts the number of South Dakota inmates on death row to five. That's two more than just a year ago, and the increase bucks national trends.

2011 was a milestone in capital punishment cases. For the first time in 35 years, the number of new death sentences nationally fell below 100.  That's according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a group that opposes the punishment. 

Currently, 34 states use the death penalty as a form of punishment, including South Dakota. 16 states do not sentence criminals to death.
 
In 2011, 78 inmates nationwide were sentenced to death, including South Dakota inmate Eric Robert.  He admitted his role in a prison escape attempt that resulted in the murder of a corrections officer. 

Sixteen people have been executed in South Dakota since 1877. The most recent was Elijah Page; he was put to death in 2007 for killing of Chester Allen Poage in 2000.

There are four other inmates on South Dakota's death row.

Donald Moeller was convicted in the 1990 murder and rape of nine-year-old Becky O'Connell. Charles Rhines was convicted in the 1992 torture and murder of Donnivan Schaefer during a burglary of a Rapid City donut shop. Briley Piper is also on death row for the 2000 killing of Chester Allan Poage. Piper's execution is set for March 2012. Eric Robert was with Berget in that prison escape.

In addition to Berget, South Dakota could also see one more inmate added to the list. Prosecutors are also pursuing the death penalty against James McVay, who pleaded guilty but mentally ill to murder after walking away from a transitional program at the prison, killing an elderly Sioux Falls woman, stealing her car, and trying to drive to Washington D.C. 

Also according to numbers released by the Death Penalty Information Center, both Oklahoma and Texas have each executed prisoners already in 2012. Texas ranks highest among states that punish by death. Since 1976 that state has executed 478 prisoners
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