Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

South Dakota Executes Guard Killer Eric Roberts


Eric Roberts, Ron Johnson (inset)

Eric Roberts, Ron Johnson (inset)

South Dakota prison inmate Eric Roberts, 50, was serving an 80-year sentence for kidnapping, when on April 12, 2011, he and fellow inmate Rodney Berget, 50, attempted to break out but failed. Even so there was one serious casualty: Roberts had beaten prison guard Ron “R.J.” Johnson with a pipe, wrapped his head in plastic wrap and left him to die. It was Johnson’s 63rd birthday. Roberts donned Johnson’s uniform and attempted to exit the prison with Berget hidden in a cart full of boxes. The other guards were immediately suspicious and stopped them before they got out. There was a scuffle, but the prisoners were apprehended.

Roberts pleaded guilty to Johnson’s murder in court and told the judge that his only regret was that he hadn’t killed more guards. In October 2011 he asked for execution, saying he would kill again if given the chance. His execution was stayed in May 2012 in order to fulfill the letter of South Dakota law by giving him the required sentence review. Berget pleaded guilty to the murder too, but appealed his death sentence. A third man, Michael Nordman, 47, who aided with the escape attempt that killed Johnson was sentenced to life in prison.

On October 14, 2012, Robert had his last meal of ice cream, and then fasted until his execution the next night. Roberts was executed by lethal injection, the first execution in South Dakota in five years, the second since 1947 and the 17th since 1877. When asked if he had any last words, expressionless, he said, “In the name of justice and liberty and mercy, I authorize and forgive Warden Douglas Weber to execute me for the crimes. It is done.”

Slideshow: Last Words from Death Row

Slideshow: Last Meals Before Execution

Slideshow: Prisoners’ Dilemma

Slideshow: Great Escapes and Manhunts

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