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SD Supreme Court rejects death sentence appeal of man convicted in prison guard killing

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PIERRE, South Dakota — The South Dakota Supreme Court has upheld the death sentence of a man convicted for his role in killing a state prison guard three years ago.

Attorney General Marty Jackley said Thursday that he'll ask state court officials to set an execution date for Rodney Berget. He was sentenced to death after pleading guilty to killing prison guard Ronald Johnson on Johnson's 63rd birthday during an escape attempt in April 2011.

"The heinousness of the crime, as well as Berget's extensive criminal history, hopeless chance of rehabilitation and multiple attempts of escape leave no alternative but to protect the public through imposition of the death penalty," Jackley said in a statement.

The state Supreme Court overturned Berget's initial death sentence because of an error by the judge in the case. But Berget was sentenced again to death last year.

His attorney appealed, saying a lower court should have allowed new evidence before Berget was resentenced. The state Supreme Court rejected that argument.

Berget was serving life sentences for attempted murder and kidnapping when he tried to escape with Eric Robert, who was serving 80 years in prison for a kidnapping conviction.

The two men attacked Johnson while he was alone in an area where inmates work on upholstery, signs, custom furniture and other projects. Robert put on Johnson's uniform and tried to move a large box, which Berget was inside, toward the prison gate. But the inmates were caught before leaving the prison.

Robert pleaded guilty to the killing and was executed in 2012.

A third inmate was sentenced to life in prison for his involvement in the escape attempt.

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