EDITORIAL: Nevada set to conduct a rare execution

Updated July 10, 2018 - 9:49 am

Scott Dozier isn’t your typical death-row inmate. Raised in a comfortable family, he had opportunity and, as they say today, privilege. But he fell into a life of drugs that culminated in him decapitating 22-year-old Jeremiah Miller during a 2002 meth collaboration in Las Vegas.

Dozier stuffed Miller’s mutilated body in a suitcase and left it in an off-Strip apartment dumpster. The odor alarmed a maintenance worker, who called police. Four years later, Dozier — who had previously been found guilty in Arizona of second-degree murder — was convicted in the Miller killing and sentenced to die.

Nevada is one of 31 states that impose the death penalty, but the punishment is rarely carried out. Since 1976 when the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed the practice, Nevada has executed only a dozen men, the last more than 12 years ago. Meanwhile, 85 people sit on the state’s death row.

Dozier, now 47, is scheduled to become No. 13 on Wednesday. His execution by lethal injection is set for 8 p.m. that evening at Ely State Prison.

The average time between conviction and execution is now more than 15 years, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The delays result from endless legal motions that anti-death penalty groups file to slow the process. But in October 2016, Dozier waived all his appeals and requested the state carry out his sentence.

That didn’t stop the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada from trying to gum up the execution by challenging the combination of drugs the state will use to kill Dozier. But even that obstacle has now been cleared — in May, the state Supreme Court sanctioned Dozier’s execution.

The chances are now unlikely that anti-death penalty activists will be able to alter Dozier’s fate.

“With nobody asking that’s in a position to ask, nothing’s going to get done,” a veteran defense attorney told the Review-Journal. “Dozier wants state-assisted suicide, and because the state’s willing to accommodate, this is a vastly accelerated situation.”

Of course, one man’s “state-assisted suicide” is another man’s justice. The death penalty generates intense passions and strong principled arguments on both sides of the debate. Once a relatively uncontroversial practice, opinion polls show support for executions slipping significantly in recent decades. The number of people put to death in the United States has fallen rapidly in recent years from 98 in 1999 to just 12 so far in 2018.

But the Legislature and the voting booth, rather than the courts, remain the proper venues for change. Until Nevada lawmakers or voters rethink the death penalty, state officials should follow the law. It’s worth noting in this case that there is little doubt about guilt or innocence when it comes to Scott Dozier.

“Life in prison isn’t life,” Dozier told the Review-Journal’s David Ferrara. “This isn’t living, man. It’s just surviving.”

That’s one way of looking at it. Jeremiah Miller may have a different opinion were he alive to express it.

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