The South Dakota Supreme Court ruling in South Dakota v. Berget is available in Adobe .pdf format.
"South Dakota Supreme Court overturns death penalty for man convicted in prison guard's killing," is the AP report filed by Dirk Lammers. It's via the Minneapolis StarTribune.
The South Dakota Supreme Court has overturned a state prison inmate's death sentence for the killing of a prison guard nearly two years ago.
In an opinion released Thursday, the justices said Rodney Berget, 50, must get a new sentencing hearing because the circuit judge who sentenced him to die improperly considered a statement Berget made to a psychiatrist.
The high court said it could not conclude that the use of the statement, in which Berget said he deserves the death penalty for taking Ronald "R.J" Johnson's life and destroying a family, was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.
"This statement, while expressing Berget's belief that he deserves the death penalty, does not touch on his motivation for pleading guilty," Chief Justice David Gilbertson wrote.
Berget pleaded guilty to killing Johnson on April 12, 2011 — the prison guard's 63rd birthday — at the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls. Circuit Judge Bradley Zell of Sioux Falls sentenced Berget to death, and he appealed the sentence but not the conviction.
Eric Robert, who also pleaded guilty in Johnson's death, was sentenced to death and executed by lethal injection in October. A third inmate, Michael Nordman, was given a life sentence for providing materials used in the slaying.
The high court said the circuit judge improperly considered the statement Berget made to Dr. David Bean during a competency evaluation, which was a violation of Berget's right to be free from self-incrimination.
Related posts are in the expert witnesses index.