The South Dakota Supreme Court has reversed the death sentence of Rodney Berget, the second man convicted of killing Correctional Officer Ronald Johnson during a failed escape attempt.
Berget pleaded guilty to the being an accomplice in the murder of Ronald "RJ" Johnson.
Almost a year ago, Judge Bradley Zell sentenced Berget to death in the case. An appeal was filed, and on October 1 Berget presented that appeal to the South Dakota Supreme Court.
The High Court concluded that statements which Berget made to Dr. Bean during a competency evaluation were improperly considered by the circuit court, which was a violation of Berget's right to be free of self-incrimination.
The majority of vote concluded Berget's statement was "used against him during the capital sentencing proceeding." The court ruling also mentions that Berget was not notified that the statements he made to Dr. Bean would be used against him.
The decision remanded the case back to the circuit court with a sentencing to be "conducted on the existing record without reference to, or considering of, the report of Dr. Bean."
As of Thursday morning Circuit Judge Bradley Zell has not yet read the High Court's opinion. However, Zell told KSFY News he is not sure if the Supreme Court's decision rules out the death penalty for another sentencing trial down the road.
Zell said he would not be able to comment after reading the Supreme Court's opinion, as the case may appear in front of him again.
Lynette Johnson, the widow of Correctional Officer Johnson, said "I'm devastated." Johnson said she felt the original case was properly presented to the court and ruling was justified.
Eric Robert also pleaded guilty and was sentenced to death for Johnson's murder. Robert was executed October 15.
A third inmate, Michael Nordman, was sentenced to life in prison for providing materials used in the slaying.
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