- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Attorney General Marty Jackley has asked South Dakota court officials to set a spring execution date for a man ordered to die for his role in killing a state prison guard during an escape attempt 3½ years ago.

Jackley has requested that Rodney Berget, 52, die by lethal injection at the State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls the week of May 3, 2015.

“The state believes that due process has been satisfied and is requesting that the sentence be carried out in the interest of justice,” Jackley said in a statement Tuesday.

Defense attorney Jeff Larson said if the court grants the date, he likely will request a stay. He said it was too early to comment on possible legal grounds for such a request.

Berget and another prisoner, Eric Robert, attacked penitentiary guard Ronald Johnson during an April 2011 escape attempt. Johnson was alone in an area where inmates work on projects such as upholstery and signs. Robert donned Johnson’s uniform and tried to move a large box with Berget inside toward the prison gate. They were caught before leaving the prison.

Robert was executed in 2012. A third inmate, Michael Nordman, was sentenced to life in prison for providing plastic wrap and a pipe used in the slaying of Johnson, which happened on his 63rd birthday.

Jackley said in an interview that he consulted with the state Department of Corrections and with Johnson’s widow before deciding on which week to request. One reason for the choice is that “there’s considerable work for the Department of Corrections in preparing for carrying out a death sentence,” he said.

Legal injections in other states, like Oklahoma and Arizona, have been scrutinized recently after taking longer than expected. Sara Rabern, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, said South Dakota has not experienced those problems and its program won’t change.

Rabern said states where execution went awry are not using the single-drug, pentobarbital protocol adopted by South Dakota. She would not disclose the source of the state’s supply.

Berget was sentenced to death in February 2012 for his role in killing Johnson. The state Supreme Court overturned the sentence in January 2013, saying a circuit judge had improperly considered a statement Berget made to a psychiatrist. Berget last year was sentenced to death again.

Larson appealed on his behalf, saying a lower court should have allowed new evidence before Berget was resentenced. State Supreme Court justices rejected that argument this past August.

Jackley said if his chosen week is approved, the specific date and time will be announced closer to the execution.

Barring any delays, it will be “a final resolution from a legal sense,” Jackley said. “With a victim’s family that has had to go through this, certainly it’s a long healing process.”

There have been 18 executions in South Dakota history. The last was Oct. 30, 2012, when Donald Moeller, 60, was executed for the 1990 kidnapping, rape and killing of a 9-year-old Sioux Falls girl.

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Follow Blake Nicholson on Twitter at: http://twitter.comNicholsonBlake

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