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.
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.