This is the "South Dakota Death Row" page of the "Capital Punishment in South Dakota" guide.
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Capital Punishment in South Dakota  

This guide highlights South Dakota law on capital punishment and the resources available in the USD Law Library.
Last Updated: Sep 1, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

South Dakota Death Row Print Page

Introductory Book Available at McKusick Law Library

Cover Art
Death Penalty in a Nutshell - Victor Streib
ISBN: 9780314279569
Publication Date: 2012-10-15

South Dakota Publications on Capital Punishment

The first article summarizes the leading United States Supreme Court opinions on the death penalty, outlines commentary on the Supreme Court cases, and explores two South Dakota Supreme Court death penalty cases, State v. Rhines and State v. Moeller.

The second comment cited below analyzes South Dakota’s manner of execution set forth in S.D.C.L. section 23A-27A-32 and its lethal injection policy. 

These articles are available through HeinOnline. 


News on South Dakota Supreme Court's Jan 2013 Berget Decision

In January 2013, the South Dakota Supreme Court reversed and remanded the circuit court’s death sentence for Rodney Berget for the murder of correctional officer Ronald Johnson. Although the Court rejected several of Berget's other challenges to the imposition of the death sentence, it agreed with Berget's argument that the circuit court’s consideration of Berget’s “unwarned” statement, made to a psychiatrist during a competency evaluation, violated Berget’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Because the Court could not conclude that the use of the statement was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, it reversed Berget’s sentence and remanded the matter to the circuit court for resentencing "without the use of or consideration of [the psychiatrist’s] report" unless Berget chooses to call the psychiatrist to testify. To read the full-text of the South Dakota Supreme Court’s opinion, click here.

For reports and comments on the Court’s decision: 

South Dakota Peace and Justice Center

Sentencing Law and Policy Blog (an affiliate of the Law Professor Blogs Network)

* Adapted from a Prairie Law Blog entry by Marsha Stacey

Following the reversal by the SD Supreme Court, Berget then sought a new sentencing hearing in front of a jury. Judge Zell denied that request and resentenced him. After several stays of execution, Berget has sought to have his appeal withdrawn. His attorney, Eric Shulte, disagrees with Berget's request and seeks a review of Berget's functionality and mental capacity to see if he is even eligible for the death penalty. 


National News Updates on the Death Penalty

The New York Times provides a continuously updated list of news articles and commentary on capital punishment, including archived news stories. Find it here. 

South Dakota Government Web Information on Capital Punishment

The site is maintained by the South Dakota Legislative Research Council.  The link will take you to the chapter in the South Dakota Codified Laws which governs capital punishment.  The laws are codified at SDCL 23A-27A.


Executions in South Dakota

There have been eighteen executions in South Dakota or Dakota Territory since 1877, according to the Rapid City Journal. 

Jack McCall was hanged in Yankton on March 1, 1877, for shooting Wild Bill Hickok in Deadwood.

Thomas Egan was hanged in Sioux Falls on July 13, 1882, for the murder of his wife. Years later, his stepdaughter admitted to committing the crime while on her deathbed.

Brave Bear was hanged in Yankton on Nov. 15, 1882, for the murder of a pioneer settler in Sully County in 1879.

James Gilmore was hanged in Deadwood on Dec. 15, 1882, for the killing of a man on the old Fort Pierre-Deadwood trail.

James Leehman was hanged on Feb. 19, 1892 for the murder of James H. Burns.

Nathaniel Thompson was hanged in DeSmet in October 1893 for killing his wife's friend.

Jay Hicks was hanged in Sturgis in December 1893 for killing and robbing a Meade County rancher.

Chief Two Sticks was hanged in Deadwood in Dec. 28, 1894, for instigating the slaying of four cowboys.

Charles Brown was hanged in Deadwood in July 14, 1897, for killing and robbing a Deadwood woman.

Ernest Loveswar was hanged in Sturgis on Sept. 19, 1902, for the murder of two homesteaders.

 Allen Walking Shield was hanged on Oct. 21, 1902, in Sioux Falls for the murder of a Native American woman named Ghost-Faced Bear.

George Bear was hanged in Sioux Falls on Dec. 5, 1902, for murder.

Emil Victor was hanged in Aberdeen on Nov. 16, 1909, for the murder of three people.

Joe Rickman was hanged in Perkins County in 1913 for the murder of a woman and her daughter.

George Sitts was electrocuted in Sioux Falls on April 8, 1947 for the Jan. 24, 1946, murders of state criminal agent Thomas Matthews and Butte County Sheriff Dave Malcolm near Spearfish.

Elijah Page was executed by lethal injection in Sioux Falls on July 11, 2007, for the murder of Chester Allan Poage.

Eric Robert was executed by lethal injection in Sioux Falls on Oct. 15, 2012, for killing South Dakota prison guard Ronald "R.J." Johnson during a failed escape attempt.

Donald Moeller was executed by lethal injection in Sioux Falls on October 30, 2012 for the murder of nine year old Becky O'Connell in 1990.

    Current Death Row Inmates

    Charles R. Rhines

    Convicted of first-degree murder for stabbing Donnivan Schaeffer, 22, during a burglary at a Rapid City doughnut shop in March 1992. Schaeffer, a part-time employee at the shop, walked in on Rhines while he was robbing the shop. He was sentenced on January 29, 1993. Rhines awaits a ruling on his federal habeas filing.

    Briley Piper

    Convicted of first-degree murder for participating in the torture and killing of Chester Allan Poage, 19, in Spearfish in March 2000. Poage was drowned and crushed with boulders. Piper had also been sentenced for kidnapping, robbery, burglary and grand theft related to the incident. One of his accomplices, Elijah Page, was executed in 2007; the other has been sentenced to life without parole. Piper was sentenced on Jan. 19, 2001. Piper has filed a state habeas petition in circuit court.

    Rodney S. Berget

    Convicted of killing State Penitentiary guard Ronald Johnson, 63, during an escape attempt in April 2011. Another inmate who participated in the crime, Eric Robert, was executed in 2012. Berget has been given two life sentences in 2003 for attempted murder in Lead and a kidnapping in Sturgis. He was originally sentenced on Feb. 6, 2012. His appeal is still pending. 


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