High court rejects killer's appeal

CARSON CITY -- The state Supreme Court has rejected an appeal from condemned Nevada inmate Robert Lee McConnell, who came within 34 minutes of being executed in 2005.

Justices dismissed several claims Thursday from McConnell, 37, including one that Nevada's lethal injection method is unconstitutional. The state uses three drugs for executions, including a "downer" that can cause death, another that stops breathing, and a third that stops the heart.

The former Reno car salesman was convicted in Washoe County District Court of murdering Brian Pierce, 25, his ex-girlfriend's fiance, in 2002. He also was convicted of raping the woman at the Sun Valley home she shared with Pierce.

The high court said a lower court properly rejected Mc-Connell's challenge of the lethal three-drug "cocktail," which isn't spelled out in state law and is left to the discretion of the state's prison director.

Justices also dismissed McConnell's arguments that the lower court erred in dismissing his claims that his guilty plea wasn't entered knowingly and voluntarily; that he had ineffective legal counsel; and that the elected jurists who presided over his trial and appeals lacked impartiality because they're "beholden to the electorate."

Also dismissed was McConnell's argument for a revision of the Supreme Court's 2004 ruling in his case that has led to numerous reviews of other Nevada death penalty cases. He sought the revisions to bolster his ineffective-counsel claim.

In the 2004 ruling, the court held that a defendant can't be convicted of first-degree murder using a particular circumstance, such as a killing that occurred during a robbery, and then have robbery used again as an aggravating circumstance in the penalty phase of a trial.

McConnell pleaded guilty to shooting Pierce nine times. Prosecutors said the final shot, to the head, was fired at such close range that it left burns on the victim.

After the shooting, prosecutors said McConnell dragged the body to a back bedroom, tried to dig out some of the bullets that killed Pierce. Then McConnell stabbed him with a steak knife and placed a tape of the movie "Fear" next to the knife that was buried to the hilt in the victim's chest.

According to court and police records, McConnell then waited for the woman to return from work and attacked her.