Cheating justice

Viva Leroy Nash died last week in Florence, Ariz. You've probably never heard of him.

Nash was a life-long criminal who spent 25 years in a Connecticut prison for shooting a cop in 1947. Not long after his release, he shot and killed a man in Salt Lake City in 1977. Sentenced to two life terms for murder and robbery, he escaped from a Utah prison work crew in 1982 and was on the run a month later when he tried to rob a Phoenix coin shop and fatally shot the sales clerk.

This time he got the death penalty.

Opponents of capital punishment argue that executions are inhumane and ineffective at deterring crime. Perhaps. But how can we measure the effectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrent when many states that supposedly impose the ultimate sentence rarely actually carry it out?

Viva Leroy Nash was 94 when he died of natural causes in his prison cell. He had been sitting on Arizona's death row for almost 27 years. He was well aware that he got the last laugh.

"Nash's final con, if he can pull it off, may go down as his greatest caper of all," wrote Richard A. Serrano in a 2005 Los Angeles Times story. "With his legal appeals creeping through the system for 23 years now, he hopes to cheat the state executioner by dying in his sleep. ... On every morning that he rises from his bunk, he maintains the upper hand ... "

With his violent, murderous history, it's hard to understand how Nash was ever released from prison even once. The fact that he managed to cheat justice all the way to the very end is a dark mark indeed on our judicial system.