Rodney Berget, and Billie Sutton’s Death Penalty Problem. When liberalism runs up against reality.

After seven years of appeals after his murder conviction, two months ago Attorney General Marty Jackley announced that “the warrant of execution for Rodney Scott Berget has been issued by Second Circuit Court Judge Bradley Zell. Berget is scheduled to be executed between the hours of 12:01 a.m. and 11:59 p.m., during the week of October 28 – November 3, 2018.”

This execution will take place in the run up to the November 2018 election, and represents a key difference between the two candidates running to be Governor.  Because Kristi Noem supports the Death Penalty. And Billie Sutton clearly and absolutely does not.

If you’re not familiar with Berget’s capital crime, this 2012 Associated Press story relates the details:

..he was sentenced to life in prison for attempted murder and kidnapping. He headed back to the South Dakota State Penitentiary — this time for good.

Then Rodney got to talking with a fellow inmate named Eric Robert about a goal they shared: to escape — or die trying.


On the morning of April 12, 2011, the timing seemed perfect. Ronald “R.J.” Johnson was alone in a part of the prison where inmates work on upholstery, signs, custom furniture and other projects. Johnson wasn’t supposed to be working that day — it was his 63rd birthday. But he agreed to come in because of a scheduling change.

After attacking Johnson, Robert and Berget made it outside one gate. But they were stopped by another guard before they could complete their escape through the second gate. Both pleaded guilty.

Read that here.

Berget had already escaped from prison once. And now that he was back serving a life term, he was going to escape or die trying.

And as planned, they took corrections officer Ronald “RJ” Johnson – a 23-year veteran of the Department of Corrections – and as planned, they beat him with a pipe, and wrapped his head in plastic wrap.  Johnson died at the hospital from his injuries.

For this April 12, 2011 crime, Berget who had escaped from prison on an earlier occasion, and who was already serving a sentence of life in prison for attempted murder and kidnapping, was sentenced to death for the murder of Officer Johnson.

While Billie Sutton has been following out a carefully mapped plan to run for Governor, running to the right of many of his fellow Democrats, there’s one issue where he’s always tacked hard to the left. In fact, Sutton has tacked harder to the left than many in his caucus at times. And that issue is on South Dakota’s Death Penalty.

If you look at the history of the issue during his time of office, Democrat candidate Sutton’s name has been attached as sponsor of nearly every anti-death penalty measure that has come through the legislature since he’s been elected.  Even when other Democrats avoided the issue like the plague.

Sutton went so far as to help sponsor a measure to include expressing political statements about the death penalty on drivers licenses.

Measures to remove the death penalty did not just have Sutton’s moral support,  they had Sutton’s explicit sponsorship, time and again.  While not all of the Sutton sponsored measures acted retroactively – one of them, (Senate Bill 94 from 2016) sponsored in part by Sutton had it passed would have released Rodney Berget from the death penalty he was sentenced to by a South Dakota court of law for killing Ronald Johnson.

And think about that.

The problem with Sutton’s hard-left stance on the death penalty is underlined when the state is faced with punishing a criminal like Rodney Berget.  Already in jail for life for attempted murder & kidnapping, Berget intended to escape from jail, no matter the cost. And it was a high one, as he killed a law enforcement officer in the process.

Compare that to Republican Kristi Noem, who has been vocal in her support for the “Thin Blue Line Act,” a measure to make targeting or killing a police officer or first responder a determining factor in potential death penalty cases.

If the death penalty is taken off the table, what is there to stop a man already serving a life sentence, since a life sentence obviously served as no deterrent to murdering a corrections officer?

As we move closer and closer to Berget’s execution date, it’s a strong reminder that there’s a clear difference between the candidates for Governor in the next election. One supports the Death Penalty for those who kill, including those who target law enforcement officers.

And the other one has been a leading advocate for repealing it.

23 Replies to “Rodney Berget, and Billie Sutton’s Death Penalty Problem. When liberalism runs up against reality.”

    1. Anonymous

      Except when he isn’t. Billie has been graded at B & C as well as one “A “by SDRTL. He’s pro-life when it’s convenient for him.

    2. Anonymous

      Yeahhhh… no he is not pro life. Just depends on who he is talking to. And he may be nice enough.. but i know a lot of people who are “nice enough”.. still sure as heck wouldnt vote for them for any office. Billie is unqualified as a person could get. Norm is gonna rock the governor position. A strong woman with clear goals and ideas.

  1. Pat Powers Post author

    I agree there are people on both sides of the aisle on this issue, but it’s one of the issues where the candidates have a distinct difference of opinion.

  2. RJ

    It’s puzzling to do you guys reconcile being anti-abortion, but being pro-capital punsishment in your minds and your rhetoric?

    1. duggersd

      Actually, the perpetrator of a capital crime is responsible for his or her own actions. A baby does not have a choice of being aborted or going full term. If you are a thinking person and know that doing certain crimes can lead to your death, you have the choice of not doing the crime.

    1. Anonymous

      An innocent baby is given the death penalty because they would be a burden.

      A person who raped a child until they died is given the death penalty.

      There is a difference, one can be pro-life and pro-death penalty.

  3. Troy Jones

    Being anti-death penalty isn’t “hard left,” it is being against giving the government the power to kill its own citizens. I think the conservative, small government position is to abolish the death penalty. Is there anything that says “strong government” than killing another person?

  4. Pat Powers Post author

    In South Dakota, the application of the death penalty is exceedingly rare, and reserved for the worst of the worst offenders.

    It is a universal value that people wish to be safe in their homes, and most view the Republican party the fiercer defender of ‘law & order’ values.

    Yes, it may be inconsistent with the personal values of some, but overall, capital punishment is reserved for those who have committed capital crimes – the worst there are against society – and only after a lengthy process.

    1. Troy Jones


      I have never seen you say anything more illogical than the above ramble.

      A government killing only a few of its citizens is still too powerful. Sounds like the early justification of abortion (safe and rare). If it is moral, who cares whether it occurs often or not. That whole rare BS is just an attempt to ask us to tolerate a bit of immorality.

      Linking safety in homes, defense of “law and order” and the death penalty is filled with more logic leaps and presumptions to discuss on a blog. Total nonsense.

      I’m not talking about personal values. I’m asking the question do we want a government so strong it can kill its own citizens? Who decides who are the “worst of the worst?” Hillary Clinton who seems to suggest we aren’t entitled to civility? The life is either a right or it is a privilege? Frankly, I’m unwilling to support the idea it is a privilege.

      Reserving the power to kill to the few is again that old abortion argument. Nonsense.

      1. Fled to Red

        do we want a government so strong it can kill its own citizens?

        In a perfect world, or in the broken world we have to actually live in. In the latter case “yes, given adequate safeguards and full exposure”.

  5. Larry

    I can easily reconcile being pro-life and being pro-death penalty which is the position of most Republicans.

    A baby never did anything but is still being killed through abortion…. criminals sentenced to the death penalty did a heinous act and have to be recommended by a jury now so 12 people look at the facts and decide that death is warranted…. the Criminal made choices to kill the baby never did.

    Clear as day to me

  6. Anonymous

    One thing is for certain, you can’t be pro death penalty and claim to be a Christian. You also can’t be pro life while not supporting children or reasonable healthcare for all.

  7. Troy Jones

    There is absolutely nothing to be more ignored than when someone says it is “certain” that certain political positions are fundamental dogmas/doctrines in order to be a Christian.

  8. duggersd

    Some people cannot divorce their opinions on certain issues from those of their church or other religion. Others can. I personally belong to a church which it opposes the death penalty and supports the ability of a woman to get an abortion. I happen to stand against both of these positions of my church. Does that make me not a Christian? Does that make me not a real member of my church? I don’t believe so.
    I am not an authority on the Catholic Church, but I believe the church has a position against both abortion and capital punishment. I dare say there are probably many people who stand against both of their positions. Does that make them not Catholic?
    In this country, we are allowed to disagree with our churches and with each other. While I respect someone’s opinion of being against capital punishment, I expect that person to respect my opinion of being in favor of it. While arguments can be made for both sides, in the end we have to decide where we are based upon our own consciences. Our churches may or may not be the deciding factor.


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