1772: John Jones, John Sunderland, John Chapman, and John Creamer 1891: William Rose

2012: Eric Robert, determined volunteer

October 15th, 2012 Headsman

Tonight at 10 p.m. local (U.S. Central) time* in Sioux Falls, South Dakota will administer a toxic lethal injection to Eric Robert … with Robert’s complete consent. (Update: Robert has indeed been executed as scheduled.)

Robert will reach the gurney on the greased-lightning legal path, thanks to his own willingness to die.

It’s a mere 18 months since Robert (then serving a prison term for kidnapping) and another convict murdered guard Ronald “RJ” Johnson for his uniform during an unsuccessful escape attempt.

Robert pled guilty, requested the death penalty, and waived his appeals. This phenomenon is surprisingly common; the Death Penalty Information Center’s invaluable executions database classifies over 10% of modern U.S. executions as voluntary. (138 volunteers out of 1,308 total executions as of this writing: Robert will be the 139th and 1,309th)

While many of those abandoned their appeals in despair once they’d been on death row for a while, Robert has shown uncommon clarity of purpose from the very first, and his firm and intelligent resistance to any attempt to intervene against his death sentence has undermined any possible argument that the guy isn’t in his right mind. So far as anyone can tell, he sincerely believes in a retributive criminal justice ethos.

It might help that the man has followed an atypical criminal arc. He has a biology degree and was a law-abiding wastewater treatment supervisor and Little League coach until he weirdly posed as a police officer and kidnapped a teenager in 2005.** (He says he was drunk.)

Robert even complained publicly when South Dakota nixed a spring 2012 execution date to conduct the mandatory appellate review all capital cases receive; he wrote a letter to the Associated Press saying that he would kill again.

“Victims of non-capital offenses receive their justice when the perpetrator is placed in custody,” Robert wrote. “Victims in capital cases receive their justice when the perpetrator is executed.” That might indeed constitute a persuasive reason to execute Eric Robert, though the same logic would just as readily dispute the suitability of the death penalty as public policy. It’s invariably justice delayed, after all.

I am free to admit my guilt, as well as acknowledge and accept society’s punishment just as I am free to proclaim innocence in defiance of a verdict. I believe that the sentence of death is justly deserved in any murder and should be carried out … Give the Ron Johnson family their justice, they have been forced to wait too long. I finish where I started — I deserve to die.

The court soon obliged him. With legal interventions seemingly at an end and no reason to expect a change of heart from Robert (who could stop the proceeding at any time by announcing his intent to file additional appeals) his execution tonight appears to be inevitable.

And if legal maneuvering has been light, South Dakota — whose 2007 execution of Elijah Page, another volunteer, was the first in that state since the Truman administration — has not been spared the lethal injection misadventures that have bedeviled American death chambers the country over.

Sodium thiopental, one of the drugs used in the classic three-drug lethal injection cocktail, has become very hard to come by for executions. In 2011, South Dakota was exposed for having purchased a supply of unlicensed thiopental from the India company Kayem Pharamaceuticals.

That led South Dakota to switch its lethal injection process to instead use pentobarbital, again following a nationwide trend. Pentobarbital executions have been subject to their own legal challenges, and in South Dakota such suits have been pushed by advocates for Donald Moeller.

Moeller is the next man scheduled to die at Sioux Falls; like Robert, he’s a volunteer, and he’s successfully rejected the “assistance” of the pentobarbital appeal. If all goes to plan Moeller will die during the week of Halloween: two executions in three weeks for a state where the death chamber went unused for a lifetime.

* See this handy list of the times of day each U.S. jurisdiction conducts its executions. The time is rather unusual; many states have moved away from the stereotypical “midnight assassination” late-night execution in favor of something more proximate to business hours.

** The available public evidence suggests Robert perhaps (and understandably) loathes incarceration; rather than shibboleths about society’s punishment, Robert fought to reduce his kidnapping sentence to bring a potential parole opportunity within his grasp. The escape attempt and bluster about killing people happened after those kidnapping appeals foundered.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder,Ripped from the Headlines,South Dakota,USA,Volunteers

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4 thoughts on “2012: Eric Robert, determined volunteer”

  1. lawguy says:

    Actually Meaghan heroin itself would work fine. Most states seem to have an abundance of confiscated illegal heroin. They all have labs run by their police forces that could tell you how “good” it was. And it would work on addicts also. You’d just have to give them more than a non-addict. It can also work so fast that you wouldn’t get the needle out, if that is the goal.

    On the other hand I would guess that the Powers That Be are terrified that it might feel good for a few brief seconds, so there you are.

    On the other hand

  2. JCF says:

    RIP.

    Is the “I will kill again” rationale supposed to persuade us to give him what he wanted? Aren’t we in the custom of DENYING freedom-of-choice to those in the process of committing the crime of assault-with-intent-to-kill?

    The state-sanctioned-murder legal process: I’ll never understand it, and I don’t want to. :-(

  3. KYGB says:

    This is why I love this blog.

    First I’ve ever heard of this guy and he’s only got an hour and a half to live!

    News rolls slow out of SD, I guess.

  4. Meaghan says:

    It seems to me like there’s plenty of drugs you could use for lethal injection. I had a friend who told me about some drug, I forget the name, which “would kill you before you got the needle out of your arm. Ten CCs would stop T-Rex.”

    There’s also good old-fashioned morphine, though I suppose it wouldn’t work with the heroin addicts.

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