SIOUX FALLS, South Dakota — A South Dakota inmate was sentenced to death for the second time on Tuesday for his role in killing a prison guard during a failed prison escape two years ago.
Rodney Berget, 50, was initially sentenced last year in the April 2011 slaying of Ronald "RJ" Johnson, who was killed on his 63rd birthday. The state Supreme Court overturned the sentence this year, ruling that Circuit Judge Brad Zell improperly considered a statement Berget made to a psychiatrist. Berget then sought a new sentencing hearing in front of a jury.
But Zell denied that request and resentenced him to death, South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley said in a statement.
"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.
Jackley said his office would ask that the execution take place within six to eight months, as required by South Dakota law.
Berget's lawyer, Jeff Larson, told The Associated Press he could not comment without first speaking with his client.
Berget and Eric Robert, 50, both pleaded guilty in Johnson's slaying. Prosecutors said the two struck Johnson with a pipe and covered his mouth with plastic wrap during a failed escape from the state prison in Sioux Falls.
Robert had asked Zell to sentence him to death, and Zell found there was at least one aggravating factor to warrant the death penalty. Robert was executed in October. A few months after Robert's sentencing, Berget waived his right to a jury trial and appeared before Zell to be sentenced.
Berget was serving life sentences for attempted murder and kidnapping when he tried to escape with Robert, who was serving 80 years for a kidnapping conviction.
The two men attacked Johnson while he was alone in the prison 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.
A third inmate was sentenced to life in prison for his involvement in the escape attempt.
The prison made more than a dozen procedural changes after Johnson's death to improve security and safety. Johnson's widow, Lynette Johnson, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the state, the Department of Corrections and several DOC officials.
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