sioux falls, sd
There are now four people sitting on death row in South Dakota.
Sioux Falls Judge Brad Zell sentenced 49-year-old Eric Robert to death by lethal injection Thursday not because the inmate wanted it, but because he deserved it.
Robert pleaded guilty last month to killing South Dakota correctional officer Ron Johnson during a foiled prison escape last April. State law says the death penalty is warranted when someone kills a law enforcement officer, and Zell stated that factor as the one that influenced his decision.
While Thursday's sentence will be automatically appealed to the South Dakota Supreme Court in the next ten days, Robert has indicated he won't appeal his execution any further. Attorney General Marty Jackley says under the law, Robert is getting the punishment he deserves.
An emotional embrace was waiting for the widow of Johnson after Zell handed down the sentence the family had asked for.
"It is my position that justice has been served in this case to protect not only the public from future escapes and harm, as well as, the penitentiary community from the further actions of Eric Robert," Jackley said.
Jackley spoke after court with Johnson's family by his side. He says this sentence shows that in South Dakota, the murder of law enforcement officers will not be tolerated.
"We will take these type of events seriously and we will hold people accountable for their conduct," Jackley said.
And while Jackley believe justice was served, Robert also believes the same thing. His attorney, Mark Kadi, spoke on his behalf after court.
"Eric Robert wanted me to convey to the Johnson family that they will get their justice when that week is set for his execution. He is not planning on taking any steps to delay that," Kadi said.
Even though both the Johnson family and Robert got the sentence they were looking for, Kadi may have summed up the emotions of the execution decision best.
"It was different than any other case I've ever had. It's a situation where everyone gets what they want, and everyone is still miserable about something," Kadi said.
Even though Robert has admitted to the crime and been given the ultimate punishment, this isn't the end of the case for the Johnsons. Inmates Rodney Berget and Michael Nordman are also facing murder charges for their roles in the escape attempt and Johnson's death. Berget faces a trial in January where the Johnson family may be called to testify.
Robert will be executed six to eight months after the Supreme Court reviews the case and confirms that he received the right sentence.