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February 06, 2012 04:59 PM

Violent Past Leads To Death Sentence For Berget


Five South Dakota inmates are sitting on death row.

A judge sentenced 49-year-old Rodney Berget to die Monday morning for killing Correctional Officer Ron Johnson during a failed prison escape.

Berget is the second inmate on death row for the crime. Fellow inmate Eric Robert is scheduled to be executed in May.

Berget is currently serving two life sentences for attempted murder and kidnapping, and Judge Brad Zell believed a third life sentence would put other correctional officers at the South Dakota State Penitentiary in danger.

"Given this history, if given the opportunity, Berget would most likely severely harm or kill other people, thus posing a future dangerousness to other correctional officers or others near him," Zell said in court.

Berget's attorney, Jeff Larson, argued during the pre-sentencing hearing last week that the convict never really had a chance to lead a lawful life since he grew up with an abusive father and was in and out of prison since he was 15 years old.

But Monday, Zell focused more on Berget's violent criminal history and eight escape attempts than he did the inmate's rough childhood.

"There are many people in this society that have had bad things happen to them, but yet have not chosen to live a life of crime or commit acts of violence on others," Zell said.

And while Berget's attorneys argued that the inmate is remorseful for his crimes, Zell said he never saw it.

"Although there may have been some remorse exhibited by Berget through what he told his attorneys, or Ms. Baker, this court did not evidence during the entirety of the proceeding any kind of expression of remorse to the family, to RJ, from Berget," Zell said.

And that is why a man who has admitted to murdering a state correctional officer is now staring down death himself.

"Mr. Berget, may god have mercy on your soul," Zell said at the close of the hearing.

Berget's execution will be set in six to eight months, but that could be delayed by the South Dakota Supreme Court's mandatory review of the case or any appeals Berget files.
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