A man who admits to killing a correctional officer at the South Dakota State Penitentiary in an escape attempt has been executed.
Eric Robert pleaded guilty in the murder of Ronald 'RJ' Johnson in April 2011. In addition to admitting to the crime, Robert said in court he would kill again unless he was given the death penalty.
The Department of Corrections says Robert was moved from a holding cell and into the death chamber at 9:31 p.m. The seven restraints were secured by 9:35 p.m. Witnesses were then moved into viewing rooms and once everyone was in place, Warden Doug Weber ordered the curtains to be opened.
Media witness Dave Kolpack with the Associated Press says Robert appeared to be calm, raised his head right away when the curtains were opened and had no expression on his face. Weber asked if he had last words and Robert made a statement to the warden.
"In the name of justice and liberty and mercy, I authorize and forgive Warden Douglas Weber to execute me for my crimes," Robert said. He then lifted his head again and said, "It is done."
Kolpack says as the Pentobarbital was administered, Robert appeared to clear his throat before making some heavy gasps. A short time later, he could be heard snoring for about 30 seconds.
John Hult with the Argus Leader says Robert opened his eyes after three or four deep breaths, but there was no movement after that. The warden called in the coroner's assistant at 10:15 p.m. She checked for a pulse on Robert's wrist, neck and two places on his chest. She examined him for six or seven minutes. She left at one point to confer with the warden before returning to the chamber and checking for a pulse again. Minnehaha County Coroner Kenneth Snell came in to check for a pulse and Robert was pronounced dead within one minute, at 10:24 p.m. His body was taken away from the Penitentiary at 10:52 p.m.
When she spoke following the execution, Lynette Johnson started by saying there is still more to be done to make sure the people responsible for her husband's death are held accountable.
"We, Ron's children and I, want everyone, please do not forget how kind, how wonderful and caring Ron Johnson is. We know this execution tonight is not going to bring back my husband to me. It's not going to bring our children's father back to them. Our six grandchildren's Papa back to them. But we do know the employees of the Department of Corrections, and the public in general, will be just a little bit safer now," Lynette Johnson said.
She ended by saying, "We stand proud for Ron."
This is the 17th execution in South Dakota and the state will hold another one soon. Inmate, Donald Moeller, is scheduled to be executed during the week of October 28.
Click on the attached video to watch the entire post-execution news conference.