Against my advice, Judge Bradley Zell sentenced confessed killer Eric Robert to death yesterday. South Dakota is thus doing exactly what the killer wants: succumbing to the fear and anger he uses to control others.
[Judge Zell] said Robert's positive qualities, including academic and professional success throughout his life, were outweighed by the anger and controlling behavior he has shown, particularly in recent years.
...a longtime girlfriend testified to his controlling nature and years of abuse during hearings this week... [John Hult, "Judge to Eric Robert: 'May God Have Mercy on Your Soul'," that Sioux Falls paper, 2011.10.27].
Judge Zell elaborates in his eleven-page justification for killing a prisoner:
Two threads, however, have been consistently woven through Robert's life leading him to where he is now. One thread is of an obsessive compulsive controlling behavior. This served Robert well with school, work and financially. Robert did well in school and very well in his employment. Robert was so obsessed with money that he was able to accumulate a rather large sum. The controlling part of Robert's behavior, however, ultimately destroyed any meaningful relationships he had.
The other thread woven through Robert's life is one of anger; [sic] the origin of which the Court could not find. Coupled with his obessive controlling, Robert's anger would culminate in his physically abusive and assualtive behavior towards the ones he loved. Add alcohol and drug use to the mix and any inhibitions Robert had were gone. During the periods of time when alcohol and drug abuse were absent Robert's relationships were good and no criminal activity took place in his life.
When Robert could no longer control his environment, this anger grew into a "war" as Robert has described it. Upon his incarceration in the SDSP in 2006, the internal struggle with losing control over his own life began. Other than the incident regarding conduct involving cutting the lock which resulted in his classification as a maximum security risk, (which the Court notes Robert has always vehemently denied) Robert's period of incarceration was essentially uneventful. Robert's war was held in check while focusing obsessively on seeking a sentence reduction before Judge Johnson for his kidnapping conviction which had resulted in an eighty year sentence. Without a reduction of his sentence, Robert would not be eligible for parole until he was 83 years of age. When the motion to modify was denied in 2009, Robert's war began to rage. He was depressed by the fact that he would probably die in prison. He was depressed by the fact that he would never have the opportunity to spend the rest of his life with the most important person in his life; [sic] his mother. He was depressed by the fact that his request to be transferred to a facility closer to where his mother lived in Wisconsin was denied. Based upon all of these realizations Robert made indications at the SDSP that he would rather die than live the rest of his life this way. As in any war, there are innocent victims. On April 12, 2011, RJ [Officer Johnson] was not a person to Robert but one of his oppressors. On April 12, 2011, RJ became a victim to Robert's war. As Robert has stated in Court, anyone who would have stood in his way as an oppressor would have died on that day.
Robert's internal "war", while being held in check at the moment, makes Robert a very dangerous person to the rest of society. The two threads woven through him, obsessive compulsive controlling behavior and anger will never change. Robert acknowledges the same [Judge Bradley Zell, State of South Dakota vs. Eric Donald Robert, pre-sentence hearing verdict, 2011.10.27].
Perhaps we ought to be alarmed that Judge Zell incorporates words like depressed and obsessive compulsive in his verdict without citing any psychiatric analysis. Perhaps we ought to be alarmed by the implication of mental disorder alongside the order to kill a man perhaps so suffering.
But I'm not going there. I'll take Robert's anger and controlling behavior at face value. He wants control of his life. He can't stand living in the penitentiary where he has no control. He thus tries to regain control of his life by winning a death penalty.
And South Dakota obliges. Judge Zell submits to Robert's control by adopting Robert's language of "war" and "oppressors." In that language, in that verdict, and in the fear that language and verdict encapsulate, Robert wins. South Dakota loses.