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Attorney General Jason R. Ravnsborg

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South Dakota Supreme Court Rules on Berget Death Penalty Case


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE :  Thursday, January 03, 2013
CONTACT:  Sara Rabern (605)773-3215   

South Dakota Supreme Court Rules on Berget Death Penalty Case


PIERRE, S.D.-  Attorney General Marty Jackley announced today that the South Dakota Supreme Court has issued its decision regarding the death penalty of Rodney Scott Berget.

The South Dakota Supreme Court has affirmed the following major case issues:

1. The sentence of death was not imposed under the influence of passion, prejudice, or any other arbitrary factor.
2. The evidence supports the judge’s finding of aggravating circumstances as enumerated in SDCL 23A-27A-1
3. The sentence of death was not excessive or disproportionate to the penalty imposed in other death penalty cases, or as respects Berget’s co-defendant, Eric Donald Robert, considering Berget’s crime and his character.
4. That Berget knowingly and intelligently waived his right to a sentencing jury.
5. The death sentence was based on appropriate record evidence.
6. Berget received an individualized sentencing determination.
7. The trial court properly considered evidence of Berget’s criminal history.
8. Admission of evidence regarding Berget’s criminal history was reliable and relevant to the court’s consideration of Berget’s character under SDCL 23A-27A-2(3).
9. The circuit court allowed proper victim impact evidence to be admitted at the pre-sentence hearing.
10. The circuit court made an adequate record of evidentiary questions.
11. Berget’s sentence did not violate evolving standards of decency.

The court's ruling affirms the appropriateness of a death sentence for Berget's crime.  In a 4-1 decision as to one issue, the South Dakota Supreme Court determined that the admission of statements Berget made to a psychiatrist violated Berget's rights against self-incrimination and to confront a potentially adverse witness. The Court has remanded the case to the trial court for a limited re-sentencing on the existing record without reference to the disputed psychiatric report.

"At trial the State presented substantial aggravating evidence demonstrating ‘the heinousness of the crime as well as Berget's extensive criminal history, hopeless chance of rehabilitation, and multiple attempts of escape’," said Jackley.  "I am pleased that the Supreme Court has affirmed that the overwhelming majority of the evidence was appropriately considered. The single remaining issue surrounding psychological evaluation may be ‘conducted on the existing record’ without causing excessive delay."