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Inmate Sentenced To Die For Slaughtering Prison Guard Cracks Jokes In Final Moments

Rodney Berget was the second person in his family to die by execution.

By Jill Sederstrom

A death row inmate used his final moments to crack a joke after his scheduled execution had been delayed for hours because of a failed bid to block the lethal injection.

"Sorry for the delay, I got caught in traffic," Rodney Berget joked to those who gathered Monday night to witness his execution, according to the Associated Press.

Berget, who was sentenced to death for killing guard Ronald "R.J." Johnson in 2011 during a failed attempt to escape the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls, died at 7:37 p.m.

The execution had initially been scheduled for 1:30 p.m. but it was delayed while the U.S. Supreme Court considered a last minute request for a delay, which was ultimately denied.

The state Supreme Court had also earlier denied a motion from attorney Juliet Yackel, who argued that Barget lacked the intellectual capacity to receive capital punishment, the AP reports. Berget himself had initially appealed his death sentence in 2016, but later asked to withdraw the appeal, saying he couldn't imagine "another 30 years in a cage doing a life sentence."

On Monday night, Berget thanked those who had supported him.

"I love you, and I'll meet you out there," he said, according to Fox News.

Berget's older brother was also reportedly executed in 2000 in Oklahoma after he killed a man who had stolen his car, the news organization reports.

Berget's crime that earned him the death sentence was equally violent. He and inmate Eric Robert beat Johnson with a metal pipe on his 63rd birthday, before wrapping his head in plastic and stealing his uniform in an escape attempt, according to The Capital Journal. The pair was apprehended before they left the prison.

Berget had been serving a life sentence for attempted murder and kidnapping at the time of the escape attempt.

He would later tell a judge that he deserved to die for Johnson's death.

Robert was executed for his role in the slaying in 2012.

Despite the execution, Johnson's widow, Lynette, said she is still haunted by the crime scene where her husband took his last breaths. She called her husband's death "cruel and unusual punishment" after the execution on Monday, the AP reports.

She said Berget's peaceful death was a sharp contrast to the violent death her husband had faced.

"Ron laid in a pool of blood. His blood was all over that crime scene: the ceiling, the walls, the pallets. They broke his neck. They severed fingers. Broke his wrist," she said, according to KELO-TV.

While Berget had joked about the delay in Monday's execution, Johnson's family said the wait had been very difficult.

“Everything just comes with a lot of stress and pain, obviously today we had to sit here for six hours before we even knew this was going to happen,” the victim's son, Jesse Johnson said, according to KSFY.

 [Photo: South Dakota Department of Corrections]

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