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USA(Oklahoma) : Death penalty / Legal concern: Roger James Berget

, Index number: AMR 51/073/2000

Roger Berget is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on 8 June 2000 in Oklahoma. He was sentenced to death in 1987 for the 1985 murder of Rick Patterson. His clemency hearing before the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board is scheduled for 30 May.

PUBLIC AI Index: AMR 51/73/00
EXTRA 48/00 Death penalty / Legal concern 18 May 2000
USA (Oklahoma)Roger James Berget, white, aged 39
Roger Berget is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on 8 June 2000
in Oklahoma. He was sentenced to death in 1987 for the 1985 murder of Rick
Patterson. His clemency hearing before the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board
is scheduled for 30 May.
Roger Berget was arrested in August 1986 following a spate of burglaries,
allegedly committed by him and another man, Scott Thornton. During questioning,
Thornton apparently told police that they should question Berget about a 1985
murder. Roger Berget subsequently told police that he and Mikell “Bulldog”
Smith had abducted Rick Patterson in his car in October 1985, and indicated
that Smith had shot Patterson.
The prosecutor agreed not to seek the death penalty against Berget if he would
plead guilty to first-degree murder and testify against Smith. Under this
agreement, Berget would be sentenced to consecutive life prison terms. Berget
agreed, but changed his mind after meeting Smith when they were held in the
same jail. He said that he would refuse to testify against Smith and would
instead accept sole responsibility for the murder. He pleaded guilty, and was
sentenced to death at a sentencing hearing before a judge in March 1987. Mikell
Smith was himself sentenced to death at a jury trial, but this was later reversed
to life imprisonment on appeal. Smith has since been convicted of two killings
of fellow inmates and the attempted murder of a guard, and is serving further
life sentences without parole for these crimes. Other than at his own and Smith’s
trials, Roger Berget has consistently maintained that it was Smith who shot
Rick Patterson.
Roger Berget’s trial lawyer has signed an affidavit acknowledging that his
representation of Berget was inadequate, due to a combination of his
inexperience, his workload, and because “my other clients facing a death
sentence very much wanted to live, while Roger did not much seem to care”.
He admitted failing to fully investigate and present evidence of Berget’s
history of non-violent behaviour in criminal partnerships with more aggressive
men (for example, Berget had once talked Thornton out of killing a man during
a burglary), his model behaviour when serving previous prison terms, or his
mental state when he decided to plead guilty. Berget, who reportedly suffers
from manic depressive illness (bipolar disorder), had attempted suicide shortly
before the sentencing hearing. The lawyer stated in his affidavit: “I simply
did not understand the importance of mental health evidence to present a full
picture...this entire area was left uninvestigated.”
The lawyer admitted that he failed to investigate Roger Berget’s abusive
childhood: “There were indicators of serious childhood trauma that should have
been investigated and explored by an expert...His juvenile [criminal] history
was presented in a vacuum, without any explanation of Roger’s terrible home
environment...”. Roger Berget grew up in a very dysfunctional family in South
Dakota. The son of an abusive alcoholic father, Berget ran away from home at
an early age to live in an abandoned house nearby. His mother would bring him
food there, but when his father found out he beat both the mother and the boy.
At the age of 14, Roger Berget suffered a serious head injury in a car accident.
At 15 he was sent to adult prison to begin the first of a number of prison
sentences for robbery. He met both Thornton and Smith in prison.
In his affidavit, the lawyer stated his “strong belief” that Berget would have
been sentenced to life imprisonment if the judge had been made aware of all
the facts surrounding the crime and the defendant.
Since the USA resumed judicial killing in 1977, 632 prisoners have been executed
in 31 states. Thirty-four inmates have been executed this year, including five
in Oklahoma, where executions have begun to accelerate over the past 18 months.
US death sentencing is marked by arbitrariness, unfairness and unreliability.
Who lives and who dies frequently depends more on where the crime was committed,
who the victim was, and how competent the defence lawyer was, than on the crime
itself. For equally heinous murders some receive prison terms while others
are condemned to die. Prisoners have been executed even when their
responsibility for the crime they were convicted of was in serious doubt.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send telegrams/faxes/express/airmail letters in
English or your own language, in your own words:
- expressing sympathy for the family and friends of Rick Patterson, brutally
killed in October 1985, but expressing concern that Roger James Berget is
scheduled for execution;
- noting doubts over whether Berget was the actual triggerman in the crime;
- noting that Roger Berget’s trial lawyer has signed an extensive affidavit
in which he admits he failed to provide Berget with an adequate defence against
the death penalty at his sentencing, noting that international standards require
adequate representation at all stages of capital trials;
- expressing concern that Roger Berget’s mental health at the time he pleaded
guilty to the crime was not evaluated, despite his recent suicide attempt,
and his reported bipolar disorder;
- expressing concern that the sentencing judge was not made aware of the extent
of Roger Berget’s childhood abuse or his model behaviour during earlier prison
- noting that Berget’s co-defendant is serving life sentences, including for
murders committed in prison;
- calling for clemency for Roger Berget;
- expressing deep concern at Oklahoma’s increasing resort to execution in the
face of world trends against this, at a time when more and more people are
questioning the fairness and reliability of the US death penalty.
Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board
4040 N. Lincoln Boulevard, Suite 219,
Oklahoma City, OK 73105-5284, USA
Tel: +1 405 427 8601
Fax: +1 405 427 6648
Telegrams: Oklahoma Pardon & Parole Board, 4040 N. Lincoln Blvd, Oklahoma City,
Salutation: Dear Board Members
If possible (and if your letter would arrive by 30 May) please also send your
appeal to the individual board members: (Salutation for all, Dear (name), eg
Dear Mr Ballard):
Mr Currie Ballard, PO Box 171, Coyle, OK 73027-0171, USA
Mr Flint Breckenridge, 2010 Utica Square, Suite 403, Tulsa, OK 74114-1635
Ms Susan Bussey, PO Box 636, Norman, OK 73070-0636, USA
Ms Stephanie Chappelle, PO Box 1945, Tulsa, OK 74101-1945, USA
Mr Patrick Morgan, PO Box 361, Arcadia, OK 73007-0361, USA
COPIES TO: diplomatic representatives of the USA accredited to your country.
You may also write brief letters of concern (not more than 250 words) to:
“Your Views”, The Oklahoman, PO Box 25125, Oklahoma City, OK 73125, USA
Faxes:+ 1 415 475 3183
Letters to The Editor, Tulsa World, 315 South Boulder Avenue, Tulsa, OK 74103,
Faxes: + 1 918 581 8353

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