Sioux Falls, SD
There is nothing standing in the way of Eric Robert and execution.
On Thursday the South Dakota Supreme Court upheld the death sentence of the inmate who killed Correctional Officer Ron 'RJ' Johnson on April 12, 2011 during a failed prison escape.
Robert said he deserved the death penalty during a four-day sentencing hearing in October but the Supreme Court needed to conduct a mandatory review of the case and Robert's request to die was the main focus of Chief Justice David Gilbertson in the opinion he issued.
The South Dakota Supreme Court paid special attention to Robert's request in the unanimous decision because they said if Judge Brad Zell had handed down the sentence based on Robert's desire to die they would have overturned it.
The Supreme Court even appointed a defense attorney from Rapid City to look at the case during their mandatory review since Robert instructed his defense attorney not to fight the sentence.
But the Supreme Court says Judge Zell sought out his own mitigating evidence about Robert and Attorney General Marty Jackley presented enough evidence under state law to show that Robert deserves the death penalty. That's why the sentence Judge Zell handed down in October has now been affirmed in August.
RJ's wife, Lynette Johnson, who asked for the death penalty in this case, told KELOLAND News over the phone on Thursday that this sentence will help protect the public from Robert.
"I am relieved that the correctional officers and the public will be a little bit safer," Lynette Johnson said.
But even though it was the sentence that all sides of the case were asking for, Johnson's widow added that the penalty may bring justice but it "will not bring him [RJ] back to me."
The circuit court will now have to set a date for the execution.
It's unclear at this time when that will happen but it's likely that will happen before the end of the year.
With Donald Moeller's execution now set at the end of October South Dakota could execute two inmates in the same year.
The last time multiple inmates were put to death in the same year was 110 years ago when the state carried out three executions in 1902.