Controversy looms as South Dakota prepares for Robert execution - KOTA Territory News

Controversy looms as South Dakota prepares for Robert execution

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Fifty-year-old Eric Robert pled guilty to killing prison guard Robert "R.J." Johnson during a failed escape attempt in April 2011.

On Friday, the state set his execution date for Monday at 10 p.m. Now several groups plan to hold vigils across the state in protest of the lethal injection.

The South Dakota Peace and Justice Center, Pax Christi and South Dakotans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty will come together at the state prison two hours before Robert is set to be executed.

"To use violence," said Rapid City Bishop Robert Gruss, "from our view, to take care of violence, it's two wrongs don't make a right."
 
That's why Gruss is encouraging a stay of execution for Robert.
 
"Violence will never heal the wounds caused by that violent act," he said, adding only forgiveness can do that.

But others say the penalty does more than simply punish the offender.
 
"I think it's an effective deterrent if used correctly," said Colista Lich of Rapid City.

"It probably causes some guys to lay off rather than commit a murder," Rapid City's Jim Albertson said.
 
Gruss doesn't really buy that.
 
"We believe it's more appropriate for our system to incarcerate someone for life," he said.
 
Right now there are five inmates on the state's death row; 188 are serving life sentences.

"I think sometimes the trouble is we don't want a death penalty," said René Porter-Stewart of Spearfish, "but we don't want to spend money on rehabilitation."
 
The Department of Corrections reports in 2011 it cost more than $20,000 a year to house each inmate in the state prison in Sioux Falls.
 
"It has been proved out, ... the cost to put somebody to death in the end is greater than the cost of incarcerating someone for life," Gruss said.
 
Multiple studies back that up.

In 2003, the state of Kansas found capital cases cost 70 percent more than similar non-capital cases. In Texas, they're three times as expensive.

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have gotten rid of the death penalty altogether, and a 2010 public opinion poll found 61 percent of voters favor a punishment other than the death penalty for murder cases.

But regardless of the numbers, without a stay of execution, which Gov. Dennis Daugaard has said he won't provide, Eric Robert will die by lethal injection on Monday night.

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