sioux falls, sd
An admitted killer is going to die for his crime.
Judge Brad Zell sentenced 49-year-old Eric Robert to death Thursday morning. Robert admitted to killing correctional officer Ron Johnson during a failed prison escape in April. After a three-day sentencing hearing this week, Zell found Robert's crime to be so violent that he deserves to die by lethal injection.
Zell says he went by the book and found that Robert's crime met two of the qualifications for the death penalty. Robert killed a law enforcement officer in the line of duty, and at the time, he was an inmate in prison.
Robert asked to be executed, but during his sentencing, Zell made it clear that Robert's request didn't play a factor in the decision.
"There can be many circumstances in this society where a person for a number of valid reasons wishes to die. South Dakota law however does not recognize assisted suicide as a legal justification for death. Thus this court will not consider Robert's wish to be put to death as an aggravating circumstance for considering the death penalty," Zell said.
Instead, Zell looked at how violent the crime was. It was said in court that Robert and fellow inmate Rodney Berget beat correctional officer Ron 'RJ' Johnson with a metal pipe so badly that they fractured his skull.
"The severity of the attack exhibits the mind of extreme depravity and vengeance. All of Robert's hatred, frustration, or other ill will was poured out on RJ on the morning of April 12th, 2011," Zell said.
Zell also looked at the protection of society and other prison officials. After reviewing Robert's more than 900-page file, Zell said the inmate was depressed by the fact that he wouldn't be eligible for parole for his kidnapping conviction until he was 83 years old. And during this week's proceedings, Robert said if he wasn't put to death, he would kill again to gain his freedom.
"Robert made indications at the South Dakota State Penitentiary that he would rather die than live the rest of his life that way," Zell said.
And so Zell handed down the death penalty to a man who was described by the Johnson family as "evil."
"Eric Donald Robert you are hereby remanded to the custody of the warden of the South Dakota State Penitentiary where you will be held to wait the time and date set by this court for your execution by lethal injection for the murder of Ronald 'RJ' Johnson according to the laws of the state of South Dakota," Zell said. "May God have mercy on your soul, Mr. Robert."
This case will automatically be appealed to the South Dakota Supreme Court within ten days.
Robert's attorney said after court that the inmate will not file any further appeals after the South Dakota Supreme Court reviews the case.
A date for Robert's execution will be set six to eight months following the Supreme Court's decision.