Death row inmate Scott Dozier died from an apparent suicide Saturday afternoon, the Nevada Department of Corrections announced.
Dozier, 48, had been at the center of a debate over Nevada’s use of certain drugs in capital punishment and had pressed for the state to carry out his sentence.
He was pronounced dead about 4:35 p.m. at Ely State Prison. He was on death row at the prison for the past 11 years. His execution had been rescheduled twice.
Dozier was committed from Clark County on Dec. 11, 2007, and was sentenced to death for first-degree murder and robbery in the killing of 22-year-old Jeremiah Miller. He was convicted in Arizona in 2005 of second-degree murder for killing 26-year-old Jasen Green.
Both killings involved Dozier’s manufacturing of methamphetamine.
Corrections Department spokeswoman Brooke Santina said that Dozier was not on suicide watch at the time and that he was alone in his cell when officials found him. Santina said she didn’t know whether Dozier had left a note.
He had been placed on suicide watch multiple times during the debate over his execution. His lawyers said in court filings that he was placed in isolation in October, which they said worsened his mental state.
‘Sad that it has come to this’
Dozier’s former attorney Clark Patrick said Saturday that he was shocked and that he had just spoken with Dozier on Thursday about his and his wife’s plans to see him Jan. 14.
“He said he was looking forward to our visit,” Patrick said.
Patrick said he and his wife kept in close contact with Dozier and his family before his Las Vegas trial.
“I’m friendly with all my ex-clients, but he’s the only one I would consider a friend,” he said. “Scott never missed sending my wife a birthday card the whole time we’ve known him.”
Patrick expressed regret at the turn of events.
“It is sad that it has come to this because the state couldn’t live up to their sentence,” he said. “If this isn’t a reason for the Legislature to eliminate the death penalty in 2019, I don’t know what is.”
Patrick also said Dozier was “100 percent” wrongly accused in the Arizona charge. He declined to comment on the Las Vegas trial.
Dozier’s current attorney, Tom Ericsson, declined to comment Saturday.
Giancarlo Pesci, who prosecuted Dozier in Las Vegas, said he was sad for Miller’s family.
“For all that they have had to endure throughout this entire ordeal of losing their son in such a brutal fashion to then be forced to endure endless appeals, delays, and finally the most recent cancellation of the execution of their son’s murderer,” Pesci said in a text message to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Pesci said the execution’s cancellation was “because of alleged profits that might be lost by an out of state pharmaceutical company.”
He also expressed sadness for Dozier’s family after the inmate’s death, because “they had been put through so much emotionally” through the execution debate.
Previous threats of suicide
Prison officials had put Dozier in isolation after he made threats about suicide and attempted to follow through on his comments, according to papers filed in federal court by the Department of Corrections.
In a phone interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Dec. 19, Dozier denied that he had attempted to take his own life.
“The state’s responsibility is to execute me,” he said. “I’ve been ready to go for two years now.”
His most recent scheduled execution was stopped in July after drug company Alvogen sued the prison system over the use of its sedative midazolam.
Santina said she did not immediately know whether Dozier had been placed on suicide watch after his recent comments, but department policy is for mental health staffers to put any inmate who may be suicidal on watch.
“If an inmate gives us any indication that he thought of harming himself in any way, we put them on suicide watch,” she said Saturday evening.
Inmates placed on suicide watch don’t have access to clothes, sheets or blankets that they could use to harm themselves, she said. Instead, they are given special materials made with “thick canvas” that cannot be torn or used to choke somebody.
She said it would have been up to mental health care staff at the Ely prison to decide when to place Dozier on suicide watch, and when to take him off.
Dozier’s death is under investigation, she said.
“All suicides are handled that way,” Santina said.
Dozier’s execution was first postponed in November 2017 when District Judge Jennifer Togliatti denied the use of a paralytic drug called cisatracurium in the execution cocktail.
At the time, Togliatti cited testimony from an anesthesiologist who said the paralytic could mask signs of suffocation if the two other drugs, the anxiety drug diazepam and the pain reliever fentanyl, weren’t administered properly.
The second postponed execution stemmed from the state’s desire to use midazolam in a combination never before used in capital punishment.
Alvogen filed a lawsuit July 10, the day before the scheduled execution, claiming that the state had used “subterfuge” when purchasing the drug by not disclosing its intended purpose.
On July 11, District Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez barred the use of midazolam, which is banned in Arizona executions, because of Alvogen’s right to decide with whom to do business.
In the last court filing under outgoing Attorney General Adam Laxalt, the prison system argued that barring the sedative could end capital punishment in Nevada.
In the Dec. 27 filing, Deputy Solicitor General Jordan Smith elaborated, writing “if third-party business interests can file these lawsuits, the death penalty is effectively dead.”
The court battle was still being litigated when Dozier died Saturday.
A federal court hearing was slated to take place Thursday in Reno, court records show.
Investigators from the department’s Inspector General’s Office and the White Pine County Sheriff’s Office responded to the prison Saturday, the department of corrections said.
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Warning signs of suicide
Signs of suicide can include changes in conversation, behavior and mood, according to the American Association of Suicidology.
If a person talks about being a burden to others and feeling trapped; if a person starts acting recklessly or withdrawing from friends, family and activities; if a person starts experiencing rage, anxiety, or a loss of interest — among other factors — reach out to the person or seek help.
For more information, visit www.suicidology.org/resources/warning-signs. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255), provides access to trained telephone counselors, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.