South Dakota Governor will not intervene in upcoming executions

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October 15, 2012

South Dakota

By Jennifer Springer

PIERRE, South Dakota: Governor Dennis Daugaard of South Dakota announced on October 11, 2012 that he would not intervene to stop the scheduled executions of two men, Eric Robert and Donald Moeller.[1]

Daugaard commented by email from his office in Pierre saying that he had no reason to alter the decision of the courts.[1] “The death penalty is the law in South Dakota, and I support it. The state has a solemn responsibility to carry out this penalty in the rare cases where it is applied.”[1]

The governor would have authority to intervene as the final step in a unique sequence of safeguards that apply to capital punishment in South Dakota.[1] Each case requires a judgment of guilt in court, a separate court proceeding to impose the death sentence, an automatic review by the state Supreme Court and the governor ultimately retains the option to lessen the sentence.[1]

Daugaard's announcement came after the state’s two Roman Catholic bishops, the Rev. Paul Swain in Sioux Falls and the Rev. Robert Gruss in Rapid City, urged that the sentences be changed to life imprisonment and that the state repeal its death penalty law.[1]

Eric Donald Robert, age 50, is scheduled to die by lethal injection at 10 p.m. on October 15, 2012 for the killing of prison guard Ronald Johnson during a failed escape attempt at the state penitentiary in Sioux Falls.[2] Robert was serving an 80-year sentence for a kidnapping conviction when he and another inmate attempted to escape.[3] Robert pleaded guilty on April 12, 2011 and asked to be put to death, saying he would kill again.[3] He never appealed his sentence and even tried to bypass a mandatory state review in hopes of expediting his death.[3]

Donald Moeller, age 60, is scheduled to die during the week of October 28 for the kidnapping, rape and murder of 9-year-old Becky O'Connell in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.[4]

South Dakota's last execution took place in 2007, and that was the first in the state for 60 years.[3] Only five inmates are currently on death row, including Robert and Moeller.[3]

Daugaard stated that state law allows him to conduct his own investigation, which he did with the cooperation of Attorney General Marty Jackley, before deciding not to intervene in the scheduled executions.[4]

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