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November 17, 2011 05:55 PM

Berget Admits To Killing Correctional Officer

Sioux Falls, SD


They both tried to break out of the South Dakota State Penitentiary this spring, and now both of the inmates involved in the deadly escape attempt have admitted to the crime.

Thursday 49-year-old Rodney Berget pleaded guilty to killing Correctional Officer Ron Johnson during the escape attempt in April.

His guilty plea comes just three weeks after fellow inmate Eric Robert was sentenced to death for his role in the failed prison break.

Berget and Robert were both caught at the west gate of the prison on April 12 trying to escape. Robert was wearing Johnson's uniform; Berget was hiding in a box, on a cart, being pushed by Robert.

Against the advice of his attorney, Berget said in court Thursday that he killed Correctional Officer Johnson by delivering the first blow with a metal pipe.

He said he was plotting the escape since August and actually wanted to carry it out a day earlier.

"April 11, was a Monday, I was going to try it then. I couldn't do it because there were too many people around so waited until Tuesday which is April 12," Berget said.

Berget says on April 12th he went to the laundry area of the prison where he grabbed a metal pipe, and then he went to the Pheasantland Industries building.

"When I got down to the shop I waited around a corner until officer Johnson came out of the office,” Berget said in court.

“When I seen him come out of the office I waited until he got to the back of the shop and came as fast as I could without making any noise and I started hitting him in the head with my pipe until he went down and wasn't moving any longer," Berget said.

Prosecutors say they have evidence that directly links him to the crime. Berget's DNA was found on the pipe that was used to kill Johnson, and Johnson's blood was splattered on Berget's shoes and pants.

Berget now faces the death penalty, and just like his co-defendant Eric Robert, Berget wants Judge Zell to make the life or death decision and not a jury.

Thursday Judge Zell made sure Berget knew that he had sentenced Robert to death.

"Are you aware this court has already rendered a death sentence involving Eric Robert?" Zell asked.

"Yes," Robert responded.

"And that the court would guess that much of the evidence that may be presented from the state may be very similar or identical to that evidence," Zell said.

"Yes," Robert responded.

And now Berget is looking at death as his only way to ultimately escape from the prison walls.

The sentencing phase of Berget's case is scheduled to start January 30.

A third inmate, 47-year-old Michael Nordman, was supposed to be in court Thursday in connection with the escape but his hearing was moved to December.

Nordman is accused of giving Berget and Robert the pipe and the plastic used to kill Correctional Officer Johnson.
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