CARSON CITY — A report showing a decline in the number of death penalty cases nationwide underscores the need for a capital punishment cost assessment in the Silver State, Nevada death penalty opponents said Thursday.
Such an assessment was approved by legislators but was vetoed by Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, there were 43 executions nationwide this year and 46 in 2010 — down from 98 in 1999. The group also said that new death sentences in the United States have declined 75 percent from their peak since executions resumed in the 1970s.
But while other states have ended the death penalty or seen a drop in new capital punishment sentences, the Nevada Coalition Against the Death Penalty said, the number of death sentences issued in the state has risen.
Four death sentences were imposed in Nevada last year, after a decade that saw only one or two a year, the coalition said.
“While many other states in the country are recognizing that the death penalty is inefficient and ineffective, Nevadans are asking why we aren’t assessing the costs of this bad public policy to our state,” said Eryn Jane Branch, the coalition’s executive director.
Death penalty foes think more people would favor sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole as an alternative to execution if they knew how much capital case trials and often decades of appeals cost taxpayers.
The last Nevada execution was in April 2006, when Daryl Mack was executed by lethal injection for raping and murdering a woman in 1988.
Mack had said he would rather be executed than spend the rest of his life in prison. He said he didn’t strangle Betty Jane May, 55, in the Reno boarding house where she lived.
Mack was serving a life sentence in prison for murdering Kim Parks in 1994 in a Reno motel when he was linked to May’s murder. He was the first Nevada convict to be sentenced to death based solely on DNA evidence.
Nevada now has 83 inmates on death row, but there are no imminent executions.
The state’s death chamber is in the aging Nevada State Prison, which is slated to close early next year. Parts of the prison date to the 1860s. Department of Corrections officials have said the chamber could be used if an execution were to occur.
A bill considered in this year’s legislative session sought a temporary moratorium on executions while a cost analysis of death penalty cases was conducted by legislative auditors. AB501 was passed after the moratorium provision was scrapped, but Sandoval vetoed the bill.
In his veto message, the governor said the bill lacked “the specificity necessary to persuade me that the outcome of the audit performed will be fair.”