February 17, 2022 - 9:01 pm
Nevada allows capital punishment. It says so right there in chapter 176 of the Nevada Revised Statutes.
But Nevada doesn’t really have the death penalty.
On Monday, Clark County prosecutors missed a deadline for securing an execution warrant against Zane Floyd, who was sentenced to death in 2000 after he killed four people and injured another during a 1999 mass shooting at a Las Vegas grocery store. For the past two decades, Floyd and his attorneys have filed appeal after appeal, most of them unsuccessful. Both the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court have refused to stop his execution.
Yet the process remains mired in legal purgatory, with the latest fight involving the lethal cocktail of drugs that the state plans to use to end his life. The missed deadline means the state’s supply of one of those drugs will expire before the execution can be carried out. More courtroom wrangling will no doubt follow.
There are 76 prisoners on Nevada’s death row at Ely State Prison, but the state has not conducted an execution in 16 years. Yes, those sentenced to die, including Floyd, deserve the right to appeal verdicts that empower the state to enforce the ultimate punishment. But 22 years is more than enough time for the judicial system to do its job. There is no dispute about Floyd’s guilt, as his horrific massacre was captured on store security footage.
It’s the height of irony that neighboring Oregon allows the terminally ill to obtain prescriptions from doctors to end their own lives painlessly, yet Nevada — unlike other states — seems unable to overcome the argument that lethal injection will cause suffering to convicted killers.
Public support for capital punishment has fallen in recent years, and there are passionate arguments on both sides. But polls from 2021 show about 55 percent of Americans still favor the death penalty for convicted murderers, particularly those involved in especially heinous crimes. Nevada’s legislative Democrats have raised the idea of abolishing the death penalty but have yet to follow through. That’s no accident: Many Democrats much prefer the comfortable status quo that allows them to profess support for capital punishment and thus fend off “soft-on-crime” political attacks while at the same time understanding the death penalty exists only in theory.
But the status quo is a sham and is failing the victims, their families and the taxpayers. If lawmakers don’t have the courage to abolish capital punishment, they should put the issue on the ballot for the voters to decide — and, if Nevadans come down in favor, the Legislature must make the necessary statutory changes to ensure we don’t have repeated examples of the Floyd fiasco.