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DOC: Robert execution scheduled for Monday

DOC: Robert execution scheduled for Monday

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Eric Robert

Eric Robert

SIOUX FALLS | A man convicted of killing a South Dakota prison guard during a failed escape attempt is set to die by lethal injection Monday, the state Department of Corrections announced Friday.

Eric Robert, 50, who said he would kill again were he not put to death, is scheduled be executed at approximately 10 p.m. Monday at the state penitentiary in Sioux Falls — the same prison where he attacked and killed prison guard Ronald "RJ" Johnson on April 12, 2011.

Robert was serving an 80-year sentence for a kidnapping conviction when he and Rodney Berget, 50, attempted to escape.

Johnson was working alone on the morning of his death — also his 63rd birthday — in a part of the prison known as Pheasantland Industries, where inmates work on upholstery, signs, custom furniture and other projects. Prosecutors said the inmates beat Johnson with a pipe and covered his head in plastic wrap to kill him. Robert then put on the guard's uniform and tried to push a large box on a cart containing Berget to the prison gate. The inmates were apprehended before leaving the grounds.

Robert pleaded guilty to the slaying and asked to be sentenced to death, telling a judge last October that he would otherwise kill again.

Circuit Judge Brad Zell found there was at least one aggravating factor present in the killing to warrant the death penalty and sentenced Robert to die by lethal injection. Robert did not appeal the sentence, though the South Dakota Supreme Court did conduct a mandatory review.

Berget also pleaded guilty to the slaying and was sentenced to death. He has appealed his death sentence to the South Dakota Supreme Court. A third inmate, Michael Nordman, 48, was given a life sentence for providing materials used in the slaying.

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Robert's lawyer, Mark Kadi, said he had met with his client Wednesday and planned to meet with him again later Friday and during the weekend.

"Up to this point, he has been calm and reflecting on the situation, trying to make peace with himself and God," Kadi said.

No friends or family of Robert's will be in attendance at the execution Monday, Kadi said.

Death row inmates in the United States typically spend more than 10 years on death row, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington-based nonprofit organization, but Robert has spent just less than a year on death row. While that's a relatively short amount of time, it's not uncommon for a person who gives up their right to appeal, said Richard Dieter, the center's executive director.

"A year is unusual, although it's not the shortest," he said. "People volunteering or that is to say, giving up parts of their regular appeal, the more common it is. Every year there's a couple people like that and their cases go more quickly."

Dieter noted that the first person to be executed in the U.S. after the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, Gary Gilmore, was executed three months after he was sentenced.

Robert's execution is the first of two expected during the next few weeks in South Dakota. Donald Moeller, 60, is scheduled to be put to death during the week of Oct. 28. Moeller was convicted in the 1990 kidnapping, rape and murder of 9-year-old Becky O'Connell. He had been on death row for 22 years before requesting appeals be dropped.

South Dakota's last execution was in 2007, and that was the first one in the state in 60 years.

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