South Dakota executes inmate who killed prison guard
Rodney Berget (Screen Capture)

A South Dakota prisoner was executed on Monday for killing a prison guard in a botched escape attempt seven years ago, marking the first state-mandated killing in South Dakota since 2012, a state corrections official said.

Rodney Berget, 56, was put to death by lethal injection after the U.S. Supreme Court denied a request by attorney Juliet Yackel to stay the execution on grounds Berget was intellectually disabled and protected from capital punishment.

Berget was executed for killing prison guard Ronald Johnson with a pipe in the 2011 bid to escape from the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls, said Department of Corrections spokesman Michael Winder in an email.

“Today the state of South Dakota violated the U.S. Constitution when it executed Rodney Berget,” Yackel said in a phone interview. “Rodney is someone who the state itself deemed intellectually disabled over 40 years ago.”

Among those who called on the Supreme Court to halt the execution was Timothy Shriver, chairman of the board for Special Olympics International.

Berget competed in South Dakota’s Special Olympics state games as a boy in the early 1970s, Shriver said.

In a letter, Shriver said Berget easily met the criteria set by a 2002 Supreme Court ruling that outlawed the execution of people with “mental retardation” on grounds such killings violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

It was South Dakota’s fourth execution since the state reinstated the death penalty in 1979.

Reporting by Andrew Hay in New Mexico; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Peter Cooney