South Dakota executes inmate who killed prison guard in 2011

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — A South Dakota inmate was executed Monday for killing a prison guard in a failed escape seven years ago in the state's first execution since 2012.

Rodney Berget, 56, was put to death for the 2011 slaying of Ronald "R.J." Johnson, who was beaten with a pipe and had his head covered in plastic wrap at the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls. It was the state's fourth execution since it reinstituted the death penalty in the late 1970s, and the first since 2012.

Berget was serving a life sentence for attempted murder and kidnapping when he and another inmate, Eric Robert, attacked Johnson on April 12, 2011, in a part of the penitentiary known as Pheasantland Industries, where inmates work on upholstery, signs, furniture and other projects. After Johnson was beaten, Robert put on Johnson's pants, hat and jacket and pushed a cart loaded with two boxes, one with Berget inside, toward the exits. They made it outside one gate but were stopped by another guard before they could complete their escape through a second gate. Berget admitted to his role in the slaying.

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Prison guard murder suspect Rodney Berget
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Prison guard murder suspect Rodney Berget
FILE - In this April 13, 2011 file photo, Rodney Berget, who was convicted of killing a Sioux Falls prison guard during an escape attempt, is escorted to court in Sioux Falls, S.D. South Dakota has set Monday as the execution date for Berget. Berget is one of two inmates convicted in the 2011 killing of guard Ronald Johnson during a failed escape attempt at the state prison in Sioux Falls. The other inmate, Eric Robert was executed by lethal injection in 2012. (Elisha Page/Argus Leader via AP, File)
FILE - In this Oct. 15, 2012, file photo, a portrait commemorating Ronald "R.J." Johnson hangs in the training center of the South Dakota Penitentiary in Sioux Falls, S.D. South Dakota has set Monday as the execution date for Rodney Berget, one of two inmates convicted in the 2011 killing of prison guard Johnson during a failed escape attempt at the state prison in Sioux Falls. The other inmate, Eric Robert was executed by lethal injection in 2012. (AP Photo/Amber Hunt, File)
Lynette Johnson, the wife of slain prison guard Ronald "R.J." Johnson, reacts as media witnesses describe to reporters the final moments of murderer Eric Robert, her husband's killer, on Monday, Oct. 15, 2012, in Sioux Falls, S.D. Robert and another inmate, Rodney Berget, killed Ron Johnson in April 2011 during a failed prison escape attempt. The Monday execution marked the first execution in five years and the second in more than half a century for the state. (AP Photo/Amber Hunt)
FILE - This Oct. 9, 2012 file photo show the lethal injection chamber of the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls. Attorney General Marty Jackley has asked South Dakota court officials to set a spring execution date for Rodney Berget, convicted and sentenced to death for the April 2011 killing of Sioux Falls prison guard Ronald Johnson. (AP Photo/Amber Hunt, File)
Missy Schafer, the daughter of slain prison guard Ronald "R.J." Johnson, wipes her face after the execution of 50-year-old Eric Robert, her father's killer, on Monday, Oct. 15, 2012, in Sioux Falls, S.D. Robert and another inmate, Rodney Berget, killed Johnson in April 2011 during a failed prison escape attempt. Robert's marked the first execution in five years and the second in more than half a century for the state. (AP Photo/Amber Hunt)
In this frame grab from video courtesy of KELO-TV, South Dakota prison inmate Rodney Berget is escorted by an official in 2003 in Sioux Falls, S.D. Berget is one of two inmates suspected of killing a 63-year-old guard during a failed prison break Tuesday, April 12, 2011, at the South Dakota prison. He is serving life sentences for attempted murder and kidnapping and has escaped the state penitentiary two other times during his 27-year criminal history. (AP Photo/courtesy KELO-TV) MANDATORY CREDIT
Lynette Johnson, the wife of slain prison guard Ronald "R.J." Johnson, speaks to reporters after the execution of 50-year-old Eric Robert, her husband's killer, on Monday, Oct. 15, 2012. Robert and another inmate, Rodney Berget, killed Ron Johnson in April 2011 during a failed prison escape attempt. Robert's marked the first execution in five years and the second in more than half a century for the state. (AP Photo/Amber Hunt)
Lynette Johnson, center in blue, listens intently as lawyer Jeff Larson argues before the South Dakota Supreme Court on behalf of Rodney Berget, the man who killed her husband, Ronald Johnson, in April 2011. on Monday, Oct. 1, 2012 in Sioux Falls, S.D. Larson argued, that Berget wasn't given a fair trial during the penalty phase of the case, during which he was sentenced to death for his role in the April 2011 killing of prison guard Johnson during a botched prison escape. (AP Photo/Amber Hunt)
South Dakota Supreme Court justices, from left, Chief Justice David E. Gilbertson, Justice Glen A. Severson and Justice Steven L. Zinter, listen as lawyers argue in the death-row case of Rodney Berget on Monday, Oct. 1, 2012 in Sioux Falls, S.D. Berget's defense lawyer, Jeff Larson, argued that his client wasn't given a fair trial during the penalty phase of the case, during which he was sentenced to death for his role in the April 2011 killing of prison guard Ronald Johnson in a botched prison escape. (AP Photo/Amber Hunt)
South Dakota Attorney Gen. Marty Jackley, right, argues before the state Supreme Court regarding death-row inmate Rodney Berget on Monday, Oct. 1, 2012 in Sioux Falls, S.D. Jackley argues that Berget's death sentence should stand despite defense lawyer Jeff Larson's argument that Berget wasn't given a fair trial during the penalty phase of the case. Berget pleaded guilty in the April 2011 killing of prison guard Ronald Johnson during a botched prison escape. (AP Photo/Amber Hunt)
Defense lawyer Jeff Larson, right, approaches the podium as South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley sits down during arguments before the state Supreme Court on Monday, Oct. 1, 2012 in Sioux Falls, S.D. Larson argued that his death-row client, Rodney Berget, wasn't given a fair trial during the penalty phase of his homicide case, during which he was sentenced to death for his role in the April 2011 killing of prison guard Ronald Johnson during a botched prison escape. (AP Photo/Amber Hunt)
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Robert was executed on Oct. 15, 2012. The last execution in South Dakota was on Oct. 30, 2012.

Berget's mental status and death penalty eligibility played a role in court delays. Berget in 2016 appealed his death sentence, but later asked to withdraw the appeal against his lawyers' advice. Berget wrote to a judge saying he thought the death penalty would be overturned and that he couldn't imagine spending "another 30 years in a cage doing a life sentence."

Johnson was slain on his 63rd birthday and as he was nearing the end of a nearly 24-year career as a guard.

His widow, Lynette Johnson, sized down R.J.'s wedding ring and now wears it next to her own; she keeps his watch — its hands frozen at the time he was attacked — in a clear case next to photos above her fireplace.

"He was so kind," she told the Argus Leader . "He didn't have a bad word to say about anybody."

The Department of Corrections planned to use a single drug. Policy calls for either sodium thiopental or pentobarbital. Pentobarbital was used in the state's last two executions.

South Dakota has not had issues with obtaining the drugs it needs, as some other states have, perhaps because the state shrouds some details in secrecy. Lawmakers in 2013 approved hiding the identities of its suppliers.

A post-execution media briefing with witnesses was to be held on prison grounds at a guard training academy that was named for Johnson after his death.

Berget was the second member of his family to be executed. His older brother, Roger, was executed in Oklahoma in 2000 for killing a man to steal his car.

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For the latest updates on Berget's execution: https://bit.ly/2JmEL7S

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