February 1, 2024
PIERRE, S.D.–After an hour of emotional testimony on both sides, a Senate committee killed a bill that would have ended the death penalty on July 1, 2024.
The Senate Judiciary Committee sent Senate Bill 109 to the 41st legislative day on a 4 to 3 vote.
Life in prison would have been the most stringent penalty for Class A felonies.
Bill sponsor, Democratic Sen. Reynold Nesiba from Sioux Falls.
“South Dakota jurors are reluctant to impose the death penalty,” Nesiba testified. “But in a majority of the cases where the state has sought the death penalty and gone through all the expenses of a death penalty trial, the jury has refused to impose a death sentence.”
Bill opponent, Attorney General Marty Jackley.
“To suggest there’s no deterrent value in the death penalty is wrong,” Jackley said. “If you allow lifers a free get-out-of-jail card to continue to kill guards, to be left out on the streets to kill other little girls, that’s wrong. There is a value to that.”
Lynette Johnson, the widow of murdered prison guard Ronald “R.J.” Johnson, showed a photo of her husband after the deadly beating. She also showed Johnson’s watch that absorbed some of the blows from a lead pipe. Johnson was murdered at the State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls in 2011.
“The little pieces right here only broke off the crystal, only broke when I was handed to it at the police department,” Mrs. Johnson said. “Otherwise, it was intact. But the glass was shattered at 10.27 on his birthday. Two lifers beat him to death. The watch, so the blows, Ron put his hands up. So this watch cracked the glass from the blows on his hands, on his hands to protect his head. This is what two lifers did.”
Mrs. Johnson also described how her husband missed his children’s soccer games and vacations.
Sending bills to the 41st legislative day is the usual means of killing a bill.