Nevada

Nevada pursues death chamber, controversial drug


Monday, July 13, 2015

Nevada has no executions on the immediate horizon but is pushing ahead to build a new death chamber at Ely State Prison and would use a drug at the heart of a recent U.S. Supreme Court case to carry out lethal injections.
Brian Connett, deputy director at the Nevada Department of Corrections, said department lawyers were reviewing the June 29 decision over the use of midazolam in Oklahoma executions “to determine what, if any, impact it may have on Nevada.”
“Nevada would use the drugs midazolam and hydromorphone to administer a lethal injection and has an adequate supply of these drugs to carry out an execution if ordered,” he said in an email.
But death penalty watchdogs said use of the drug almost assuredly would spawn lawsuits after highly publicized incidents of botched executions.
Three Oklahoma death row inmates sued after that state first used midazolam last year in the execution of Clayton Lockett. Witnesses reported Lockett writhed, gasped and moaned. Prison officials tried to halt the execution process, but Lockett died after 43 minutes.
Midazolam, an anti-anxiety drug, is intended to put inmates in a comalike state before other drugs to bring about death are administered. Critics argue it does not guarantee unconsciousness to avoid pain from the subsequent drugs.
Similar prolonged executions using midazolam occurred in Ohio and Arizona in 2014.
LETHAL DRUG RULING
In its 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court said the use of midazolam does not violate Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment. The majority also noted that midazolam had been used in other executions about a dozen times without complications.
About 10 days later, Oklahoma set new execution dates in September and October for the 3 inmates who challenged the use of the drug.
A 2-drug injection of midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone, the same combination planned for use by Nevada, was 1st used for lethal injection by Ohio in January 2014. Witnesses said that it took about 25 minutes for condemned killer Dennis McGuire to die and that during the process he made loud snorting or choking noises while his midsection convulsed.
Rob Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington-based nonprofit group, said the court’s decision doesn’t settle the question over midazolam’s use.
“That doesn’t mean that there will not be challenges to midazolam elsewhere,” he said.
Dunham said that while justices found the Oklahoma inmates didn’t meet their burden of proof to halt the use of the drug, “it doesn’t mean that midazolam is constitutional.”
He said a state “that is concerned about the execution process would have serious doubts about using midazolam.”
The last execution in Nevada was April 26, 2006, at the now-shuttered Nevada State Prison in Carson City. Daryl Mack was executed for the 1988 rape and murder of Betty Jane May in Reno.
Starting at least 11 years ago and up through Mack’s execution, Nevada used a combination of pentobarbital, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride in its execution protocol. But Nevada and other states have been pressed to find alternatives after death penalty opponents pressured manufacturers not to sell them for executions.
Nevada has executed 12 inmates since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976. About 80 men are on Nevada’s death row.
NEW DEATH CHAMBER
Besides the issue of lethal drugs, Nevada is building a new death chamber at Ely State Prison after Nevada State Prison, where executions were conducted, closed in 2012.
Less than a week after Gov. Brian Sandoval signed a capital improvement bill on June 15 that included $860,000 to remodel a prison administrative building into a new death chamber, the state Public Works Board published a notice seeking statements of qualifications from architectural and engineering firms to perform the work.
The deadline for submitting those statements was Thursday, and it is unclear how many were submitted. The prison project was one of dozens of maintenance projects approved by state lawmakers for the next 2 years.
State lawmakers, who rejected funding for a new execution chamber in 2013, approved the expenditure this year despite reservations about the cost and lingering uncertainty over the death penalty.
San Quentin's brand new, costly - and still unused - death chamber
San Quentin’s brand new, costly – and still unused – death chamber
Critics have called the new execution chamber “an outrageous boondoggle.”
“This proposed new facility may sit unused forever, or it could require further remodeling if lethal injection is rejected in court,” Nancy Hart, president of the Nevada Coalition Against the Death Penalty, and Tod Story, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, wrote in a May 27 opinion piece.
“Even if lethal injection is upheld, there are serious doubts about the availability of the lethal drugs needed for an execution,” they wrote.
Plans call for remodeling 1,900 square feet of visitation and courtroom areas of an administrative building at the Ely Prison to accommodate an execution chamber.
During legislative hearings, Chris Chimits, deputy administrator with the state Public Works Board, said the chamber would be modeled after California’s San Quentin State Prison execution facility, the construction of which was overseen by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Mary Woods, spokeswoman for the Nevada Department of Administration, said a design contract could be presented to the Board of Examiners for approval in November.
After that, the design, permitting and construction process is expected to take about a year.

 

Death penalty upheld for man in Las Vegas hammer killings – Thomas Richardson


November 14, 2012 http://www.lasvegassun.com

ARSON CITY — The Nevada Supreme Court, in a 5-2 decision, has upheld the murder conviction and death penalty sentence for Thomas Richardson in the hammer slaying and robbery of two people in Las Vegas.

Richardson and Robert Dehnart agreed in September 2005 to rob and murder Steve Folker, who was at the home of Estelle Feldman, also killed with hammer blows to the head, records show.

Dehnart, who was the 18-year old son of Richardson’s girlfriend, agreed to testify against Richardson as part of a plea deal. He was sentenced to 20 to 50 years for first-degree murder and a consecutive 4 to 30 year term for robbery.

Chief Justice Michael Cherry dissented in the ruling, saying evidence against Richardson “was not overwhelming” and errors at trial required the conviction be overturned and a new trial ordered. Justice Nancy Saitta agreed with Cherry.

Richardson maintained he was in California at the time of the murders.

But the court’s majority opinion said the trial testimony of Dehnart “is sufficiently corroborated,” and substantial evidence supports the jury verdict.

The court said District Court Judge Michelle Leavitt was wrong in not permitting the defense in closing arguments to maintain Dehnart was lying to receive a lighter sentence.

But the court called it harmless error.

Cherry, in his dissent, said defense attorneys should have been allowed to argue that Richardson had returned to California before the time of the murder.

“As there was conflicting evidence of this crucial fact and no physical evidence placing Richardson in the home or even in the state at the time of the murders, (defense) counsel’s argument became much more vital to the defense,” Cherry wrote.

Cherry also wrote that evidence at the crime scene was mishandled, and a replica of the hammer used in the killing should not have been introduced at the trial.

Man sentenced to death for murder at Caesars Palace – Bryan Hall


November 9, 2012 http://www.ktnv.com

Las Vegas,  — Bryan Hall appeared in court Friday to find out if he could face the death penalty for killing a waiter at Caesars Palace.

Family and friends of the victim, Brad Flamm, gathered in the courtroom at the Regional Justice Center for the decision.

It was an emotional morning as both attorneys argued the pros and cons of the death penalty in the case.

Just a few hours later, the jury reached a verdict that Hall will face death as punishment for his conviction.

Hall was convicted of murdering Flamm earlier in the week.

Flamm’s family was visibly satisfied when the decision was read in court.

“We’re just glad justice is done. This guy won’t hurt anyone ever again,” said Flamm’s father, Fred. “He’s put away, and he’s not going to be with us anymore. Hopefully the sooner the better.” 

Hall and Flamm had been friends, but police said they got into an argument over a woman they both dated.

In May 2009, Flamm’s body was found by a loading dock outside Caesars Palace. He had been beaten and strangled.

Flamm’s mother said it was hard to see him in court, but harder to see him at the county jail, where she happens to work.

“But now he won’t be there,” Jennifer Flamm said. “I won’t have to go into work and worry about him being there.”

The Flamm family is happy to be able to now move forward, keeping Brad’s spirit alive.

“Brad lives on in our hearts,” Fred Flamm said. “We miss him, but he’s still there.”

Hall will return to court for a formal sentencing on January 17.

Nevada Department of Corrections lacks plan for executions due to prison closure, drug shortage


may 10, 2012 source : http://deathpenaltynews.blogspot.com

4 months after shutting down Nevada State Prison in Carson City, site of the state’s only death chamber, officials have no solid plan for carrying out executions and no access to a lethal injection drug.
As Nevada’s death row inmates continue to appeal their convictions and sentences, the Nevada Department of Corrections has continued to lose its ability to hold an execution.
Corrections officials shut down the Nevada State Prison in Carson City, site of the state’s only death chamber, early this year, and they have no solid plan in place for transporting and holding an inmate who is about to be executed, the Reno Gazette-Journal found.
In addition, 1 of the drugs used during a lethal injection has not been available for more than a year, and the state’s execution protocol has not been updated to address the drug shortage, the Gazette-Journal found.
The department plans to submit a bill draft request to the Legislature next year asking for $385,000 to build a new execution chamber at the Ely State Prison, said Steve Suwe, a department spokesman.
The Nevada Attorney General’s office sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder early in 2011 seeking help to deal with the lethal injection drug shortage, spokeswoman Jennifer Lopez said. But no resolution has been found.
“Should any executions be scheduled, we will do the best to help the Department of Corrections have the drugs necessary to carry out a lawful execution order,” Lopez said.
Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said the lack of a solid plan could be problematic, especially if an inmate were to suddenly stop the appeals process and ask to be killed. Eleven of the 12 inmates executed in Nevada since 1976 “volunteered” to be executed.
“When it comes time, they just can’t say, ‘Trust us,’” Dieter said of corrections officials. “They have to have a very specific protocol. Either a state or federal court would want them to produce that information. They’ll want to make sure this isn’t done in a slipshod way.”
Source: Reno Gazette-Journal, May 10, 2012

NEVADA – Nevada court reviews death penalty sentence of convicted killer


May 7, 2012 Source http://www.lasvegassun.com

A convicted killer does not have to show by a preponderance of the evidence that he does not deserve a death sentence, a defense lawyer says.

John R. Petty of the Washoe County public defender’s office told the Nevada Supreme Court that it should nullify the death penalty given murderer James Biela because a wrong instruction was given to the jury during the penalty phase of the trial in Reno.

But Terry McCarthy of the Washoe County district attorney’s office said each juror makes his or her own decision. And the death penalty should be upheld.

But Justice Kristina Pickering said there could be confusion in the jury instruction.

On Jan. 20, 2008, 19-year-old Brianna Dennison disappeared while sleeping on the couch of the home of a friend in Reno. Her body was found Feb. 15 in a field. She had been raped and strangled with a pair of thong panties.

Petty, the chief appeal deputy in the public defender’s office, said the jury was wrongly instructed that the mitigating circumstances must outweigh the aggravating circumstances to eliminate the possibility of the death penalty.

But Justice Michael Douglas noted the defense at the trial never objected to the jury instruction. Nor did the defense attorney argue against it in his closing argument.

But Petty said the court should either grant a new penalty hearing or reduce the death sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Deputy District Attorney McCarthy told the court there was no requirement at trial that the death penalty be imposed. He said it was a moral judgment by the juror.

In his brief to the court, McCarthy quoted the instruction as saying, “If you find unanimously and beyond a reasonable doubt that at least one aggravating circumstance exists and each of you determines beyond a reasonable doubt that any mitigating circumstance do not outweigh the aggravating, the defendant is eligible for a death sentence.”

The court took the arguments under submission.

Biela is one of 82 men on death row in the state prison in Ely.

There has not been an execution by lethal injection in Nevada since Daryl Mack was put to death on April 26, 2006.