A judge on Thursday postponed the execution of twice convicted murderer Scott Dozier, who was set to die early next week.
At Thursday’s hearing, lawyers for the Nevada Department of Corrections presented a copy of the state’s execution protocol signed by the warden of Ely State Prison.
But District Judge Jennifer Togliatti denied the use of a paralytic drug called cisatracurium, and in turn granted a request from the prison’s lawyers to stay the execution as the lethal injection process is reviewed by the Nevada Supreme Court.
The judge pointed to testimony last week from an anesthesiologist who said cisatracurium could mask signs of suffocation or other suffering if two other drugs in the execution cocktail — the anxiety drug diazepam, or Valium, and the pain reliever fentanyl — were not administered properly.
“They’re going to have to be the court that makes that determination that we, as a state, are OK with the paralytic, when he could be aware,” Togliatti said “Call it substantial risk, minimal risk, moderate risk.”
Within hours of the order, prison officials released a statement announcing that Tuesday’s scheduled execution would not occur.
“The Nevada Department of Corrections stands by the integrity of the protocol,” the statement read.
In recent months, Dozier’s lawyers have pushed to ensure that his lethal injection would not lead to cruel and unusual punishment, asking for the elimination of the paralytic drug, but they did not directly ask the judge to stay the execution, standing by an agreement with the man convicted of two murders.
Dozier, who first requested last year that his appeals stop, told Togliatti on Wednesday that he was “98.76 percent certain nothing is going to change.”
Dozier, who turns 47 later this month, would have been the first inmate executed in Nevada since 2006.
A Clark County jury convicted him in September 2007 of killing 22-year-old Jeremiah Miller at the now-closed La Concha Motel. In 2005, Dozier was convicted in Arizona of second-degree murder in another case.
Last year, the state completed construction of an $860,000 execution chamber. As Dozier’s death wish worked its way through the court system, prison officials scrambled to find a combination of drugs to carry out his punishment.
In the weeks leading up to what was supposed to be his execution date, Dozier wrote letters each Sunday to Togliatti, regularly telling her he remained “steadfast” in his request.
With the understanding that the prison system would continue to look for a way to kill death row inmates, Assistant Solicitor General Jordan Smith asked the judge to unseal the letters.
In Dozier’s statements in open court and the letters read by the judge, the man also known as Chad Wyatt, Raymond Dozier, Scott Raymond Dozier and Chadwick Quincy Wyatt, has offered no explanation for a desire to give up on the legal system and life.
The judge set another hearing for Dozier in early December, and lawyers left the courtroom without speaking to reporters.
The nonprofit American Civil Liberties Union has called for a more open execution protocol, while criticizing the unprecedented drug combination and the use of the paralytic.
“Recent court hearings about the state’s experimental execution plan only confirmed the ACLU of Nevada’s concerns about the likelihood of a botched execution,” the group’s legal director Amy Rose said in a news release. “We were worried the proposed use of a paralytic would mask possible suffering by Mr. Dozier, and the judge agreed. We remain concerned about the proposed drug combination, however, with or without the paralytic. This case is ripe for review by the Nevada Supreme Court, and Nevadans deserve the chance to see this execution scheme fully vetted in public.”
Nevada’s last execution, by lethal injection, was in 2006, when Daryl Mack was put to death for the 1988 rape and murder of a Reno woman, Betty Jane May.
Nevada has executed 12 inmates since capital punishment was reinstated by the Legislature in 1977.