Eric Robert sits on death row awaiting (and hoping for) execution by the people of South Dakota. Last year he pleaded guilty to murder and asked to be sentenced to death. When granted an automatic appeal, he appealed the appeal. His execution has been stayed as he fights for his right to be executed.
A South Dakota inmate who acknowledged killing a state penitentiary guard in a failed escape attempt asked a judge on Wednesday to sentence him to death, saying his one regret is that he did not kill another officer and that he will kill again.
Eric Robert, 49, pleaded guilty in September to killing Ronald "R.J." Johnson on April 12 – Johnson's birthday – in an attempt to sneak past other security. Robert waived his right to a jury trial and said he wanted to be put to death, but Second Circuit Judge Bradley Zell said the state still had to prove the death penalty is warranted. Robert had been serving an 80-year-sentence on a kidnapping conviction when he attempted to escape with Rodney Berget, 49.
Robert told Zell during his pre-sentencing hearing that he was so full of anger and hungry for freedom on April 12 that he would have killed anyone who stood in his way.
"Brad Zell, if you stood between me and the door of freedom, I would kill you," Robert said.
Robert said the one regret he has from April 12 is that he did not bring the pipe with him to the gate to kill the officer who stopped him. Once he realized his plan was going to fail, Robert said he began climbing up the wall of the prison – not to escape but to try to reach for the rifle of an officer on the lookout.
"I would have shot that weapon until it was empty," he said.
Zell told Robert that wanting to die is not reason enough for the death penalty.
"There are many people who want to die," Zell said, adding that that doesn't count as an aggravating factor.
The judge must find at least one aggravating factor was present during the killing to sentence Robert to death. The state presented five factors during the three-day pre-sentencing hearing: the death of a correctional officer, the manner of death, where and why it occurred, and the defendants' criminal background.
Robert said he was guilty of all five factors and offered a sixth one to the judge – stealing Johnson's uniform, which included his wallet with money inside.
Lynette Johnson, Ronald Johnson's widow, broke down in tears and had to be escorted off the witness stand as she testified about how her life has been ruined because of Robert's actions on April 12. In their 34 years together, they spent a total of six nights apart, she said.
"We weren't done," she said. "We weren't done living. He wasn't done living with me."
So terribly sad.
I oppose the execution of anyone who may be factually innocent of the crime for which they are to die. I all other cases, I stand mute.
In the case of Eric Robert, I stand mute.