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.

And…

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.

40 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.

      Reply
    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.

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
  2. RJ

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

    Reply
    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.

      Reply
    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.

      Reply
  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?

    Reply
    1. anonymous

      Its not the “government” that is executing murderers.

      It is US–that’s why there’s a jury. They represent US.

      And it rather presumptuous and disrespectful of you to think that you know more or have some special insight than 12 of your fellow citizens did not when they imposed the death sentences on this killer after hearing all the evidence.

      If you wish to change what WE are doing regarding the death penalty, then convince your fellow citizens to vote otherwise.

      Just stop with this mantra about “government” doing this. We are doing it as represented by the jury, and if you don’t like it, then convince your fellow citizens of the rightness of your cause.

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
    1. Troy Jones

      Pat,

      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.

      Reply
      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”.

        Reply
      2. anonymous

        ‘I’m asking the question do we want a government so strong it can kill its own citizens?”

        I too have never heard anything so illogical.

        Its not the “government”. It is us.

        Got it?

        Reply
  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

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
    1. anonymous

      I get that we disagree Troy.

      You just don’t trust or respect your fellow citizens, 12 of whom made an informed decision about Berget after hearing all the evidence.

      And since you’re unable to convince (enough) of your fellow citizens of the rightness of your position, you make this intentional misstatement about what Fled wrote and intended. Isn’t bearing false witness one of the Big Ten no-nos?

      Reply
  9. Troy Jones

    Anonymous December 14 (multiple posts):

    I don’t trust my fellow citizens to raise my kids, tell me how to spend my hard earned money, what to eat. Not sure how trust is relevant. My position is I don’t want a government so powerful it kills its citizens because if it has that power, how do I rationalize it should be limited on lesser items?

    Is it US that invades our privacy, expropriates the fruit of our labor through taxes, regulates our businesses?

    No it is the government. Same with who is acting as the executioner. It doesn’t make a whit of difference is the decision is delegated to an elected body (legislature), elected executive (Governor or President), a board or commission of appointed citizens, or a jury. And anything they do or authorize is the use of the power of the GOVERNMENT to implement their decision.

    It is with GOVERNMENT power people are taxed, regulated, imprisoned and executed. If you believe the government should be empowered to kill its citizens, we disagree.

    But, pretending it is not an exercise of governmental power is a delusion. If you think it licit and just, I wonder why you insist on deluding yourself?

    Reply
    1. anonymous

      Calling my logical position a “delusion” is intellectually lazy.

      We, as citizens, have delegated the power to impose criminal guilt & sanctions in felony situations to our representatives on a jury. We have done no such thing for child-rearing, diet, or personal discretionary spending. So please stop inserting irrelevant items into this discussion.

      I would suggest that you begin a deeper study of jurisprudence and criminal punishment by reading Eric Jaffe’s work, beginning here:
      https://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/the-complicated-psychology-of-revenge

      One wonders why anyone would adopt your view of jurisprudence: how would you “rationalize” assigning juries the power to determine any guilt or recommend or impose any sentence?

      Or are you suggesting that only you as a victim can assert the power to punish your wrongdoer (since only the individual is capable of making decisions regarding child-rearing, diet, etc. according to you)? The only conclusion using your views is that the criminal justice system is unneeded as “justice” is left to the personal whim of the victim–of course, that would be irrational and uncivilized.

      In the end, it is us who have assigned determinations of guilt and punishment for serious crimes to our fellow citizens on juries. That’s the grand bargain of citizenship. It’s not perfect but it is preferable to your view that guilt & punishment is a victim’s personal decision. If you find that arrangement defective, or in need of improvement, then convince your fellow citizens of the rightness of your position.

      So far, you have failed.

      In essence, you do not trust your fellow citizens serving on juries in capital cases to make the proper determinations of guilt and punishment. Those jurists are not “the government”; they’re not professional government servants or supervisors; they have no personal or professional stake in the outcome. In fact, the entire historical basis for the development of the Anglo-american jury system (including grand juries) was to protect citizens from “the government”! Did you not know that?

      So, you are factually and historically wrong when you claim that the jury-based American system of criminal justice is “the government”–it’s meant to protect us from “the government”! The jury system is a guard against
      the government acting arbitrarily or capriciously. The jury is US–LITERALLY!

      Reply
  10. Troy Jones

    By your logic, the legislature is “US-LITERALLY”, every board and commission is “US-LITERALLY.”

    Even so, the legislature has powers granted to it by the Constitution, boards and commissions have powers granted to it by the Legislature/Executive, and juries have powers granted to it by the Legislature/Executive.

    “US-LITERALLY” can add to are subtract powers under our Constitution, Executive/Legislature, boards and commissions AND our juries. It’s how a democracy works.

    Jurors are sworn to uphold the law as written. They can not go above and beyond the law. If the Legislature/Executive or Constitution (as appropriate) adds to the law or subtracts to the law, jurors are sworn to uphold the law as changed. Under the law, they do not have the power to execute a criminal for petty theft or even grand theft or beating their spouse or drunk driving. Currently the Legislature/Executive has granted jurors the power to kill people guilty of certain crimes (and only those crimes).

    It is my position to subtract the power of juries to kill people.

    Your assertion I want to restrict juries authority to determine guilt or innocence is FALSE.

    Your assertion I want to change the current authority to determine punishment as guided by the law as written is FALSE. I repeat, I only want to change the guidance to not allow them to kill citizens.

    I am not asserting “only (I) as a victim can assert the power to punish (my) wrongdoer.” I repeat, I support the current American style of Justice.

    You make this statement: “If you find that arrangement defective, or in need of improvement, then convince your fellow citizens of the rightness of your position.”

    I repeat, that is the some and substance of all my statements- it is my goal to convince “my fellow citizens” to change the law which allows jurors to use the power of the government to kill citizens.

    BTW, I read your article on revenge. It didn’t have the effect you intended. If any part of the motive of the death penalty is revenge, it doesn’t make us healthier as victims or a society.

    “psychological scientists have discovered many ways in which the practice of revenge fails to fulfill its sweet expectations. Behavioral scientists have observed that instead of quenching hostility, revenge can prolong the unpleasantness of the original offense and that merely bringing harm upon an offender is not enough to satisfy a person’s vengeful spirit. They have also found that instead of delivering justice, revenge often creates only a cycle of retaliation, in part because one person’s moral equilibrium rarely aligns with another’s. The upshot of these insights is a better sense of why the pursuit of revenge has persisted through the ages, despite tasting a lot more sour than advertised.”

    Reply
    1. anonymous

      “Jurors are sworn to uphold the law as written. They can not go above and beyond the law”

      No, judges uphold “the law” and cannot go beyond it. Juries are charged with finding and applying the facts as they find them to that law. In fact, jurors can and do ignore the law (unfortunately), and when they do, there is no recourse or consequence for them.

      “and juries have powers granted to it by the Legislature/Executive.”

      True, but not the whole truth. Juries are often granted powers by the courts. In the case of capital crimes, the US Sup Ct assigned sentencing to juries, nullifying state and federal laws to the contrary. Hurst v. FL

      Look, its clear that you have significant gaps in knowledge when it comes to our criminal justice system and capital punishment in particular. I gave you a reading assignment–please make the effort.

      “It is my position to subtract the power of juries to kill people.”

      So, now you’ve evolved from opposing the “government killing” murderers, the “juries killing” murderers! I’m glad you’re evolving!

      “Your assertion I want to restrict juries authority to determine guilt or innocence is FALSE.”

      No, its not my assertion. Its the logical consequence of your assertions that you do not trust “government ” to make decisions for you (And you piled on several irrelevant examples in addition to capital punishment). Logically, since you do not trust “government to kill” murderers, you cannot trust government to determine guilt or impose any sentence. That is your logic. Own it.

      Reply
    2. anonymous

      “I repeat, I only want to change the guidance to not allow them to kill citizens.”

      Why limit it to just that? If you do not trust government to “kill citizens”, you (logically) cannot trust it to determine guilt or impose any sentence. OWN IT!

      Now, if you are arguing that there is something unique or special about capital punishment for murder versus other forms of punishment for murder, then you need to make that case. You have not, nor have even made the effort.

      “I am not asserting “only (I) as a victim can assert the power to punish (my) wrongdoer.” I repeat, I support the current American style of Justice”.

      No you do not. You’re trying to have your cake and eat it too. Part of the “American style of justice” has long included capital punishment, and you wish to change that. Since you wish to change it, obviously you do not support capital punishment, and since capital punishment is part of the American/SD system of justice, you don’t support our system of justice. That is basic logic.

      Reply
    3. anonymous

      “It didn’t have the effect you intended.”

      Really? What effect did I intend? Are you a mind-reader too?

      “I repeat, that is the some and substance of all my statements- it is my goal to convince “my fellow citizens” to change the law which allows jurors to use the power of the government to kill citizens.”

      You do not convince anyone about your views when you write this drivel:

      “But, pretending it is not an exercise of governmental power is a delusion. If you think it licit and just, I wonder why you insist on deluding yourself?”

      Ad hominem attacks are so lame…and simply intellectually lazy.

      Reply
  11. Troy Jones

    To avoid what appears to be a misunderstanding of my intent, let me just be clear:

    1) Under our law, the people via their Legislature/Executive or IM/Referendum process have the authority to determine the range of punishments available to juries to impose for certain crimes. Within the above process, I support taking away the authority of juries to impose a punishment of killing of citizens.

    2) Under our Constitution, juries (and judges if the accused waives a jury trial) have the authority to determine guilt or non-guilt. I support juries having this authority and do not advocate a change in juries’ authority to determine guilt or non-guilt.

    Simply, it is my view that the power to kill is the ultimate power and I oppose giving that power to the government via judges or juries.

    If it is your contention that juries are not extensions of the government, I reject that argument as juries are provided for in the founding document of our government (the Constitution which is why SCOTUS made the ruling you reference) and the range of their powers are derived via the branches of the government (Legislature/Executive). Your argument is a distinction without a difference.

    You have a long history (years now) of trying to parse my words to mean what I don’t intend or say. And your logical extensions are almost always logic fallacies. The assertion because I want to deny juries/government one power (killing citizens) can be an extended to a “logical consequence” of denying juries/government the power to determine guilt or non-guilt is a textbook example of the logic fallacy “false equivalence.”

    The gravity/consequence of determining guilt and imposing the death penalty is not equal to determining guilt and imposing a lesser penalty or determining guilt and not imposing a penalty.

    Reply
    1. anonymous

      “I repeat, that is the some and substance of all my statements- it is my goal to convince “my fellow citizens” to change the law which allows jurors to use the power of the government to kill citizens.”

      So, based on this statement, you now concede that it is a JURY that imposes the penalty of death. The jury represents US. It is US.

      You originally claimed that it was “the government” that “killed” its citizens through the death penalty, yet you now concede that you cannot lobby “the government”–you’re lobbying “your fellow citizens”; you’re lobbying US! . If it were “the government” actually doing the “killing” as you originally claimed, why would you not lobby “the government” to stop it? See how illogical your views are?

      Your own words and proposed actions to lobby your fellow citizens to change the death penalty laws are inconsistent with your earlier claim about “the government” doing “the killing”!

      You finally agree with me, and logic.

      Reply
    2. anonymous

      “Within the above process, I support taking away the authority of juries to impose a punishment of killing of citizens”

      Why? It comes down to you not trusting your fellow citizens to serve on juries and do the job. Why? Do you support mob rule?

      Why do you think that a jury should have fewer punishment choices is better?

      Why do you think you know better than the system we have now? Why do you think you know better than the clear majority of your fellow citizens?

      These are all questions that you’ve simply passed by on your crusade against your amorphous “government”.

      Reply
    3. anonymous

      “If it is your contention that juries are not extensions of the government, I reject that argument as juries are provided for in the founding document of our government (the Constitution which is why SCOTUS made the ruling you reference) and the range of their powers are derived via the branches of the government (Legislature/Executive). Your argument is a distinction without a difference”

      But again, your arguing that the US Constitution or a state constitution is all about a “government” setting up a “government”. Its not. A constitution is US setting up a government on our behalf. The powers of a jury are not “given” or “devolved” from any constitution, law, or judicial holding. All of those powers BELONG to US, and we’ve assign them as we see fit.

      In other words, a jury is not an extension of “the government” as you’ve been asserting–“government” is an extension of US! Civics 101.

      Reply
    4. anonymous

      “You have a long history (years now) of trying to parse my words to mean what I don’t intend or say”

      More mind reading? You’ve been scolded before, its time to learn the lesson.

      Reply
    5. anonymous

      Hello?????

      Have you conceded that your shallow view that its the “government” that executes convicted murderers, not us as represented by our fellow citizens on a jury?

      Just answer these:

      If it were “the government” actually doing the “killing” as you originally claimed, why would you not lobby “the government” to stop it? Yet, you state that “it is my goal to convince “my fellow citizens” to change the law….”

      Why convince your fellow citizens to change, when your entire point here is that it is the government performing the executions?

      Talks about a lack of logical consistency!

      Look, I get it: you’ve not thought very deeply about this from jurisprudence, philosophical civics, legal, or historical bases. You operate more on feelings than thought.

      Reply
    6. anonymous

      “If it is your contention that juries are not extensions of the government, I reject that argument as juries are provided for in the founding document of our government (the Constitution which is why SCOTUS made the ruling you reference) and the range of their powers are derived via the branches of the government (Legislature/Executive). Your argument is a distinction without a difference.”

      Reject it all you want but that distinction was the sole basis for the Hurst decision (and Ring before that). The Sixth amendment is there for a reason! Its not just a “distinction without a difference”! It is in OUR founding documents.

      Or are you now arguing that you know more that those who wrote & passed the Sixth amendment or the 8 of 9 on the US Supreme Ct who disagree with you (in Hurst)?

      You make it so easy Troy to punch huge holes in your views, since their founded on little more than your feelings about executing murderers. Your effort to dismiss these holes as “parsing” is just a slick trick that shallow thinkers use to deflect clear and obvious inconsistencies in argument.

      As I already urged you to do: take some time to research and understanding the criminal justice system. Hopefully your doing that now.

      Reply
  12. anonymous

    “You have a long history (years now) of trying to parse my words to mean what I don’t intend or say. ”

    Then use the words you mean to use, and stop trying to avoid the consequences of writing words on a subject that you’ve not thought much about.

    No one is “parsing” your words. I’ve quoted you extensively. You cannot escape the true and ordinary meaning of your words with a lame claim about “parsing”.

    “And your logical extensions are almost always logic fallacies. The assertion because I want to deny juries/government one power (killing citizens) can be an extended to a “logical consequence” of denying juries/government the power to determine guilt or non-guilt is a textbook example of the logic fallacy “false equivalence.””

    Sorry, you are again trying to avoid what you wrote by adopting the mantle of being “logical” and knowing “logic”. Its more drivel.

    Actually, what you’ve tried to do is build a “false inequivalence” between sentencing decisions in capital cases and non-capital cases. I called you on it, and finally got this:

    “The gravity/consequence of determining guilt and imposing the death penalty is not equal to determining guilt and imposing a lesser penalty or determining guilt and not imposing a penalty.”

    Of course a death penalty sentence is not equal to lesser penalties, but nor are the crimes for death is a potential sentence equal to crimes for which death is not a potential penalty.. See, you tried again to create false inequivalence!

    I’ll try again: If you are arguing that there is something unique or special about capital punishment for murder versus other forms of punishment for murder, then you need to make that case. You have not, nor have even made the effort.

    Reply

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