SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - A South Dakota man who beat a prison guard with a pipe and covered his head in plastic wrap to kill him during a failed escape attempt was put to death Monday, in the state's first execution since 2007.
Eric Robert, 50, received lethal injection and was pronounced dead at the state penitentiary in Sioux Falls at 10:24 p.m. He is the first South Dakota inmate to die under the state's new single-drug lethal injection method, and only the 17th person to be executed in the state or Dakota Territory since 1877.
Robert had no expression on his face. Asked if he had a last statement, Robert said: "In the name of justice and liberty and mercy, I authorize and forgive Warden Douglas Weber to execute me for the crimes. It is done."
As the drug was administered, the clean-shaven Robert, wearing orange inmate pants with a white blanket wrapped around his upper body, appeared to be clearing his throat and then began gasping heavily. He then snored for about 30 seconds. His eyes remained opened throughout and his skin turned pale, eventually gaining a purplish hue.
Robert was put to death in the same prison where he killed guard Ronald "RJ" Johnson during an escape attempt on April 12, 2011. Robert was serving an 80-year sentence on a kidnapping conviction when he tried to break out with fellow inmate Rodney Berget, 50.
Johnson's widow, Lynette, said after the execution that she knows Robert's death will not bring back her husband, her children's father or her grandchildren's grandfather.
"But we do know that the employees of the Department of Corrections and the public in general will be just a little bit safer now," Lynette Johnson said. "We need to have more attention and focus on the safety of all of the correctional officers in the state of South Dakota. Ron, none of you will ever know how great he is and is missed. We stand proud for Ron."
Lynette Johnson, her two children and their spouses all witnessed the execution. No one from Robert's family was in attendance.
Robert ate his last meal of ice cream with his lawyer, Mark Kadi, on Saturday night before fasting for 40 hours for religious reasons.
After the execution, Kadi said the execution was very "orderly and polished."