At 7:37 p.m. on Oct. 29, Rodney Berget became the 19th person in South Dakota history to be executed by the state.
In 2011, Berget was sentenced to death for killing correctional officer Ron “R.J.” Johnson during a failed prison escape attempt. According to the Argus Leader, he had been serving a life sentence for attempted murder and kidnapping convictions.
His accomplice, inmate Eric Rober, was executed in 2012 after pleading guilty to murder, and Michael Nordman was sentenced to life in prison for providing the plastic wrap and pipe used for the killing.
According to media witness Danielle Ferguson, Berget’s last words were “In all seriousness, [I wanted to] thank everybody that was there for me. I love you, and I’ll meet you out there.”
The lethal injection was administered, and after a few deep breaths, Berget was pronounced dead.
Currently, South Dakota has two inmates serving time on death row: Charles Russell Rhines (almost 26 years) and Briley Piper (over seven years). According to the South Dakota Department of Corrections, both have been convicted of torture and murder,
Capital punishment is illegal in 20 states, and the debate continues to rage. Arguments range from ‘eye for an eye’ philosophies to pro-life ethics, with a myriad of points in between.
But with over half of the United States still finding legal basis in capital punishment, the conversation is far from finished.
Yes, prosecutions are racially-charged, bias degrades humanitarian efforts
As of 2018, 20 states have abolished the death penalty.
But, South Dakota has not.
Recently, the state carried out an execution for the first time since 2012. This once again raises the question of whether or not the death penalty is acceptable in a modern, and supposedly just society.
Can we justify such a permanent action existing in a flawed and human system? According to the American Civil Liberties Union, a strong racial bias exists in the death row system.
In the fall of 2000, the U.S. Department of Justice released the results of a federal survey concerning death penalty prosecutions. The report showed that both federal and state-level administrations disproportionately use capital punishment in cases involving people of color.
Furthermore, although the courts do not usually entertain postpartum pleas of innocence, questions of falsified evidence or forced confessions force us to reckon with the very real possibility of executing innocent people.
Those who support the death penalty may argue that it deters crime.
However, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, states issuing the death penalty have higher rates of murders than states without it.
Furthermore, there are no consistent academic findings that prove a link between state-sponsored executions and lower crime rates. Another argument might be that some crimes are so horrible they deserve the ultimate punishment, but that is not the question we should be asking. It should not be “do these criminals deserve to die?” They ought to be “should we bend to that same level, does this make our state better, and is this the world we want to live in?”
We like to think it stems from justice, but in truth, it is revenge. It is an eye for an eye. It brings our country and state down to the same level as the criminals we abhor. It does not deter crime. It does exist in a system perfect enough to justify its existence.
It needs to stop. We need to be better.
No, death row inmates violated individual Lockean rights to life, liberty
Last week, Rodney Berget died for his murderous role in the killing of a state penitentiary correctional officer.
Since 1877, South Dakota has found only 19 guilty enough to pay the ultimate price for apathetic actions in murdering their neighbors. While some may argue that any purposeful death is a sin against the morals of humanity, the statistics speak a juxtaposing truth.
South Dakota courts go through prolonged processes to ensure absolute guilt, as shown by the length that the state’s two current death row inmates have been on the line.
While capital punishment may be the most final of court decisions, the alternate option requires the question—how does a society function with unempathetic, dangerous individuals? Chaos descends and society suffers.
According to John Locke’s social contract theory, individuals that enter into a governing body give up certain rights and portions of other rights—namely life, liberty and property—in order to receive, in return, protection by the state.
In other words, individuals give up certain rights in order for the overall rights of society to be better protected. When these intrinsic rights are violated by fellow citizens (i.e. murder, robbery, etc.), the state takes action to right these wrongs and set the contract back in place.
The choice to end someone’s life isn’t an easy decision, and South Dakota has never freely thrown the death penalty into question. A tally of 19 is only a drop in the bucket compared with the remainder of the nation, namely Texas’s 555, which comprises about one-third of the nation’s total.
Many forms of protection against violence are present throughout the United States, and they become manifest in gun rights, prison sentences and self-protection policies.
When society is endangered, the state has the right to protect those who are threatened. When the only option left is to kill the violence at its source, the option must be made available.
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