February 14, 2010
"Oldest US death row inmate dead at 94 in Arizona"
The title of this post is the headline of this new AP article. Here are a few of the particulars:
Is it inappropriate to suggest that the Ninth Circuit's most recent effort to keep Nash alive seems to now have been reversed by the ultimate higher authority?
Deaf, nearly blind, confined to a wheelchair and suffering from dementia and mental illness, the oldest death row inmate in the United States has died of natural causes at age 94. Viva Leroy Nash died late Friday at the state's prison complex in Florence, said an Arizona Department of Corrections spokesman....
Nash had been imprisoned almost continuously since he was 15, said one of his appellate attorneys, Thomas Phalen.... "He was born in 1915 and he was sent to prison in 1930," Phalen said. "Think about it — he had 15 years of life in southern Utah, at a time when Utah and Arizona was the wild, wild West — and he went to prison in 1930, and he remained in prison for the next 80 years, more or less."... Phalen said his research shows that Nash grew up in southern Utah and was sent to the federal prison in Leavenworth, Kan., in 1930 for an armed robbery.
He spent 25 years in prison for shooting a Connecticut police officer in 1947. In 1977, Nash was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences for a robbery and murder in Salt Lake City but escaped from a prison work crew in October 1982.
Three weeks later, on Nov. 3, 1982, Nash went into a coin shop in Phoenix and demanded money from employee Greggory West. Nash shot West three times, killing him. Another employee was in the line of fire but was not hit, according to the corrections department. As Nash ran away, a nearby shop owner pointed a gun at him and told him to stop. Nash grabbed the weapon and the two men struggled over it until police arrived and arrested him.
He was convicted of first-degree murder, armed robbery, aggravated assault and theft, and sentenced to death in 1983. The Arizona Supreme Court upheld the conviction in 1985 and Nash then filed a series of unsuccessful appeals in both state and federal court.
His most recent appeal was rejected by a U.S. District Court judge in 2006, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in September that he was entitled to a hearing to determine if he was competent to assist in his defense. Doctors who had examined him told the court he suffered from a delusional disorder and memory problems and was incompetent.
February 14, 2010 at 07:29 PM | Permalink
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Here's the 9th ct opinion. Of course Reinhardt is on the unanimous panel, along with Paez and Thomas.
Posted by: . | Feb 14, 2010 8:05:27 PM
Thanks to lawyer pretextual rent seeking hyper-proceduralism, he went rough, long, and humiliating, devoid of humanity, dignity, or self-awareness. If he died from pneumonia, he endured progressive suffocation over days or weeks. Try that for just 2 minutes to see the cruelty of this method of death. See how you would like that feeling to endure for weeks.
He should have gone quick, painless, dignified, and surrounded by loved ones, 25 years ago.
Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Feb 14, 2010 8:12:41 PM
Had he been properly executed in 1930 under 123D, three people would not have had their lives taken. The lawyer supports pure evil, because it pays his fee.
Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Feb 14, 2010 8:15:38 PM
Good riddance. Another murderer on the row who murdered once, got caught, sentenced to less than death and who murdered again.
Posted by: federalist | Feb 14, 2010 10:35:54 PM
Federalist, in your post, you say: "Another murderer on the row who murdered once, got caught, sentenced to less than death and who murdered again."
Do you have any statistics on how many people on death row in America fit that bill? That is, individuals who murdered, got caught (and convicted), and then later murdered again. Based on my limited knowledge of modern sentencing, I'm guessing it's about 1% of people on death row. But that's just a wild guess. Do you have a link to any stats? Also, for those who do fall into this group, any sense of how often the second murder occurred while the perp was free versus while in prison?
Posted by: dm | Feb 14, 2010 11:07:15 PM
dm, off the top of my head, I can think of a few:
(1) a Missouri inmate who escaped and killed
(2) one of the California executed guys (forget his name).
(3) Macduff in Texas
Someone did a study about all the people let off the row when SCOTUS declared the DP unconstitutional. A few went on to kill again. I remember reading somewhere that 10% of death row inmates had a previous homicide.
Posted by: federalist | Feb 14, 2010 11:24:50 PM
How anyone can justify keeping a man in solitary confinement on death row beyond the age of 70, let alone 90, is totally beyond me. Any legal arguments are irrelevant ... this is, or should be, purely and simply a matter of humanity and respect for Christian values. Justice Stevens has stated that neither retribution nor deterrence are served in such cases and “a punishment of death after significant delay is ‘so totally without penological justification that it results in the gratuitous infliction of suffering.’” (quoting Gregg v. Georgia (1976))
Posted by: peter | Feb 15, 2010 7:08:20 AM
Peter--Nash did it to himself by filing endless appeals. And in any event, if we are going to keep capital punishment, what's the alternative--kill the inmate then hear the appeal? You and Justice Stevens can't have it both ways--you can't say that there should be full and multiple opportunities to challenge a death sentence, but that a death sentence is unjust if it isn't carried out quickly enough. The two are about as mutually exclusive as it gets.
I know you don't agree with capital punishment, but if we're going to have it, we should at least put in sufficient procedures to ensure that it is carried out in a just manner.
Posted by: Res ipsa | Feb 15, 2010 8:47:02 AM
"How anyone can justify keeping a man in solitary confinement on death row beyond the age of 70, let alone 90, is totally beyond me."
How about this?
"...but escaped from a prison work crew in October 1982.
Three weeks later, on Nov. 3, 1982[age = 67], Nash went into a coin shop in Phoenix and demanded money from employee Greggory West. Nash shot West three times, killing him."
Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Feb 15, 2010 9:05:09 AM
Res ipsa - you can hardly blame Nash for using the system as best he could to save himself from execution. Neither do I disagree with the procedures that allowed him to do so. And of course, I am totally against the death penalty anyway. While and where the death penalty still exists, my point was rather that this case highlights both the absurdity and inhumanity that takes punishment beyond the extremes of rationality. There is no rational argument for refusing to commute a sentence on death row to life when an inmate reaches an age that most reasonable people would accept renders a person no longer a significant danger to others. I put that age at 70. Others might suggest a slightly lower or higher age. A lower age might be appropriate where an infirmity adds to the assessment of lessor danger.
The lack of such a provision only adds to the correct perception that the driving force behind the death penalty is the motive of gratuitous suffering.
Posted by: peter | Feb 15, 2010 9:24:01 AM
Supremacy - I am aware of your note - "...but escaped from a prison work crew in October 1982." I have not seen details of the circumstances of this. Maybe the work was to build the prison in which he was to be incarcerated until his intended execution? Certainly his sentence was unchanged. Clearly, at that time, the work crew regime was at fault. I understand it has a much better reputation today, though whether it still extends to death row inmates I have my doubts. The substance of my argument is unchanged.
Posted by: peter | Feb 15, 2010 9:39:29 AM
"There is no rational argument for refusing to commute a sentence on death row to life when an inmate reaches an age that most reasonable people would accept renders a person no longer a significant danger to others."
But in this point, you have an unspoken premise: that the only justification for punishment in general, and the death penalty in particular, is incapacitation. I don't agree with that point.
One of the central justifications offered for the death penalty is that in certain cases, it is the only just punishment. I would go so far as to say that this is the predominant reason why most Americans support capital punishment. And if this is true, the probability of recidivism is irrelevant--certain murderers deserve to die whether they are 24 or 94, whether they remain evil at heart or if they have turned their lives to writing children's books admonishing them to stay out of gangs.
We can argue the merits of that moral position all day (ultimately to no definitive resolution, as with most moral questions), but the point is, there is indeed a reason to deny commuting an inmate's sentence when he killed an innocent person for no justification except cold-heartedness--it's just a question of whether you find that reason persuasive.
Posted by: Res ipsa | Feb 15, 2010 12:00:47 PM
No, Nash was not under sentence of death when he escaped nor was in the Arizona prison system. His criminal career began in 1930 with a short prison term for armed robbery when he was 15-years-old. He next spent 1947 to 1972 in a Connecticut state prison for the attempted-murder of a police officer when he was 22. He spent just five years as a free man before drawing two life sentences for a robbery and murder committed in 1977 in Utah when he was 62-years-old. He was allowed to work on an inmate work crew while serving life because the administrators seemed to believe, as you do, that an elderly man was little threat. He proved them wrong by escaping the Utah prison and making his way to Arizona; he was 67. There he robbed and killed a man in 1982, drawing a death sentence from the state of Arizona.
So tell me, if you feel that no inmate over 70 presents a threat to others then how do you account for his committing escape, robbery and murder just three years earlier? Or do these three years somehow mellow the man with a 52-year rap-sheet?
Posted by: MikeinCT | Feb 15, 2010 1:45:41 PM