Death row inmate to be executed Monday

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) – South Dakota’s first execution in five years, and only the second in more than half a century, is scheduled for Monday night.

Eric Robert, 50, pleaded guilty in the April 12, 2011, slaying of a prison guard during a failed escape attempt and asked to be put to death, saying he would kill again. He was scheduled to die by lethal injection at 10 p.m. at the State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls.

South Dakota’s last execution took place in 2007, and that was the first in the state for 60 years. Only five inmates are currently on death row, including Robert and Donald Moeller, 60, who is expected to be executed later this month after he asked for appeals on his behalf to be dropped.

“You have few people on death row, few executions, and then you have this coincidence of cases coming all at once,” said Richard Dieter, executive director of the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center. “When people waive appeals, their cases start to move more quickly.”

Robert was serving an 80-year sentence for a kidnapping conviction when he and Rodney Berget, 50, tried to escape from a Sioux Falls prison. Authorities say the two hit Ronald Johnson with a pipe and covered his mouth with plastic wrap.

Robert then put on Johnson’s pants, hat and jacket and approached the prison’s west gate. With his head down, he pushed a cart loaded with two boxes. Berget was hidden in one of the boxes, according to a report filed by a prison worker after the slaying.

As the men got closer to the gate – and freedom – guards became suspicious. When confronted, Robert beat one guard; other guards quickly arrived and detained both inmates.

Months later, Robert told a judge that his only regret was that he hadn’t killed more guards.
Johnson’s body was found on the floor in a Pheasantland Industries building, where inmates worked on upholstery, signs, custom furniture and other projects. Johnson was killed on his 63rd birthday.

Robert never appealed his sentence and even tried to bypass a mandatory state review in hopes of expediting his death.

Berget also has pleaded guilty in the killing, but he has appealed his death sentence. A third inmate, Michael Nordman, 47, was given a life sentence for providing materials used in the slaying.

Warden Doug Weber will accompany Robert into the execution chamber Monday night, ask him for his last words, then give the signal to the execution team. The Minnehaha County coroner will be present to declare Robert dead. Defense attorney, Mark Kadi, told The Associated Press that none of Robert’s friends or family will be in attendance.

Last-minute appeals or stays of execution are unlikely. Gov. Dennis Daugaard announced last week that he would not intervene. Opponents of the death penalty are expected to begin a vigil outside the prison at 8 p.m.

Robert ate ice cream for his last meal on Saturday night and has been fasting since for religious reasons, Kadi told the AP on Saturday.

His execution could be the first of two in as many weeks. Moeller is scheduled to be put to death the week of Oct. 28 for the 1990 kidnapping, rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl. Robert has been on death row only for about a year, Moeller has been there for more than two decades.

A judge last week granted Moeller’s request that appeals to stay his execution be dropped.

“I killed,” Moeller said. “I deserve to be killed.”

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