July 19, 2020

Eric Robert // South Dakota // 22

Eric Robert // South Dakota // 22

Eric Robert posed as a police officer, pulled over an 18-year-old woman and forced her into the trunk of his car.  He heard her talking to someone on her cellphone and ended up fleeing, but was convicted and sentenced to 80 years in prison. Eric ended up beating a prison guard, Ronald Johnson with a pipe, killed him and attempted to escape.   

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Erik Robert lived in Wisconsin and was raised by his single mother and he helped raise his younger sister. He had good grades and put himself through college. He had a successful career in wastewater treatment, worked as an emergency medical technician, volunteered in the community and coached a Little League team.

On July 24th 2005, Eric posed as a police officer, pulled over an 18-year old woman and forced her into the trunk of his car. He drove to a remote location and ended up fleeing when he heard her talking to someone on her cellphone. In 2006, he was convicted and sentenced to 80 years in prison.

On April 12th, 2001, Eric was working alone in a part of the prison known as Pheasantland Industries. Inmates are able to work on upholstery, signs, custom furniture and other various projects. He ended up beating a prison guard, Ronald Johnson also known as RJ with a pipe and covered his head in plastic wrap to kill him during a failed escape attempt with another inmate named Rodney Berget. RJ was killed on his 63rd birthday.

Eric put on RJ's pants, hat and jacket and approached the prison's gate. He kept his head down and pushed a cart that had two boxes. Rodney was hiding in one of the boxes. Guards were suspicious as the pair got closer to the gate. A guard approached them, but Eric started beating them. Other guards were able to detain both inmates. Months later, Eric told a judge that his only regret was that he hadn't killed more guards. He pleaded guilty to killing RJ and asked to be sentenced to death. He told the judges that he would kill again. He didn't appeal his sentence and even tried to bypass a mandatory state review because he wanted to expedite his death sentence.

Rodney also pleaded guilty, but appealed his death sentence. Another inmate, Michael Nordman was also given a life sentence for providing materials that were used in the murder.

For religious reasons, Eric spent his final 40 hours fasting, but his last meal was Moose Track ice cream. The 40 hour fast was a metaphor for the 40-day fast of Christ in the Bible. Eric received lethal injection and was pronounced dead at the state penitentiary in Sioux Falls. He was the first South Dakota inmate to die under the state's single-drug lethal injection method and he was only the 17th person that was executed in the state since 1877. He was put to death in the prison where he killed the guard. Eric had no expression on his face. The Warden asked if he had a last statement and 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.” The drug was administered and Eric began clearing his throat and gasping. Then he snored for about 30 seconds while his eyes were open. He turned pale and eventually went purple and it was over.

When it comes to Rodney, his mental status and death penalty eligibility caused delays in courts. In 2016, he appealed the death sentence, but later asked to withdraw the appeal against his lawyers' advice. He wrote to the judge saying he thought the death penalty would be overturned and he couldn't imagine spending another 30 years in a cage doing a life sentence. He ended up being the second member in his family to be executed. His older brother, Roger, was executed in Oklahoma in 2000 for killing a man to steal his car.

RJ's wife Lynette Johnson witnessed Rodney's execution and said that her husband experienced cruel and unusual punishment, but lethal injection was peaceful and sterile. She says, “What's embedded in my mind is the crime scene. Ron laid in a pool of blood. His blood was all over that crime scene. That's cruel and unusual punishment.”

Lynette sized down her husband's wedding ring and wears it next to hers. She also kept his watch, the hands frozen at the time he was attacked and placed in a clear case next to photos above her fireplace.


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Eric Robert executed at South Dakota penitentiary in Sioux Falls


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