2017-11-12 15:10:45 UTC
Murder defendant served 13 years for 2003 killing----Relatives remember 2003
Johnston County victim, reach out to Alamance family
1 defendant charged with 1st-degree murder in the death of Harold Dean Simpson,
84, of Burlington was in prison for 2nd-degree murder at this time last year.
Sean Damion Castorina, 42, and Penny Michelle Dawson, 40, could face the death
penalty in the killing of Simpson, whose body was found in late August in
Caswell County. The pair allegedly then fled to Virginia, and shot a woman and
left her for dead before they were arrested in Fergus Falls, Minn.
Castorina had been released from prison last December after serving 13 years
for killing his boss.
In that case, Castorina was charged with shooting Sean Nichols, 27, after a
disagreement over Castorina's paycheck. After the argument, the 2, who had been
hunting buddies, went into the woods on an apparent hunting trip.
"It was one of those things where we knew who had done it right away," said
Eric Davis, Nichols' brother-in-law. "They had had a small argument when
[Castorina] came. looking for his paycheck. We cautioned Sean not to let his
"The last day I had seen my brother was the Saturday before Castorina killed
him," said Christine Davis, Nichols' sister.
Davis recalled how the 2 men appeared to have left everything on good terms,
but she "didn't have a good feeling."
Days later, Nichols went missing. While his family reported him missing, it was
several more weeks until his body was found.
The only person who knew about the murder was Josh Harvey, 16 at the time and
the brother of Castorina's then-girlfriend.
Harvey was allegedly present during the shooting and was said to have waited in
Castorina's truck while Castorina and Nichols went hunting in Johnston County,
Eric Davis said.
While hunting, Castorina shot Nichols in the back before shooting him again in
"He covered the body and came back," Davis said. "He told the 16-year-old if he
said anything, he would kill him."
Nichols' family called friends in an attempt to find Nichols. Davis claimed
some of his friends went to see Castorina, who was "cool."
"The police went to interview him," Davis said. "They didn't really get the
impression that we was nervous or lying."
According to Christine Davis, Harvey broke down and eventually led the cops to
"He basically told the whole story to the police, and they went and found
Castorina," Davis said.
Harvey was sentenced 3 to 5 years in prison for accessory to murder, while
Castorina was sentenced to 16 years for 2nd-degree murder after a plea deal:
Castorina pleaded to 2nd-degree murder, but since he was a 1st time offender,
he served 13 years.
Castorina was released last December.
Upon his release, Nichols' family took it upon themselves to follow Castorina
in an effort to see whether he would break the law again.
"We have been having to follow Sean Castorina on our own," Davis said.
In March, Davis learned, Burlington police charged Castorina with assault on a
female and communicating threats, and his bond was set for $15,000. Christine
Davis said the family tried to contact authorities to get Castorina back into
jail, with no results.
Castorina was picked up again July 20, 2017, for a theft charge in Johnston
"He should never had gotten out," Christine Davis said. "We kept looking."
1 month later, the news came out that Castorina had been linked to Simpson's
When Davis and his wife found out, they were shocked.
"We were never notified by victim services or parole or anything," Eric Davis
said. "We had to find out on the Internet."
'It doesn't feel like justice'
Christine Davis expressed her desire to reach out to Simpson's family but knew
she needed to wait. She eventually reached out to Heather Dunn, Simpson's
granddaughter, on Facebook. The 2 families, including Simpson's son Robert
Simpson, recently met to talk about their lost loved ones.
"They wanted to know more about what happened to my brother, what happened with
court," Davis said. Dunn "kept getting upset. I know how she feels. I told her
if she needs anything, call me."
Davis plans on staying in touch with the Simpson family and helping them
through the trial.
Looking back, the Davis family expressed its sadness that another family had to
go through the slaying of a loved one.
"I felt terrible that another family had to deal with the same stuff we did,"
Eric Davis said. "... We were hoping we could prevent this from happening to
other people. It felt like we had lost in a way.
"We really feel for them, what they are going through," he added. "It is a long
process. When you lose somebody, people think that you get justice, but even if
you got the death penalty or life in prison, it doesn't bring that person back,
and it doesn't feel like justice."
Christine Davis agreed but expressed anger at the justice system for letting
"I hate that this is happening," Davis said. "It shouldn't have happened. Our
justice system needs to work better."
Clemency gone missing from Florida's death row
ustice is supposed to be blind, but not as blind as the U.S. Supreme Court when
it ruled in 1993 that a Texas death row prisoner - who claimed to be innocent,
but had run out of appeals - should look to the governor to save his life.
"Executive clemency,"wrote Chief Justice William Rehnquist, is "the 'fail safe'
in our criminal justice system."
But when it comes to the death penalty in Florida, the fail-safe has gone
There hasn't been a death row commutation in Florida since 1983, the 1st year
of Gov. Bob Graham's 2nd term.
Since Florida resumed executions in 1979, governors have put 95 people to death
and spared only 6, all by Graham.
In at least 17 of those cases, advocates say grounds existed for commuting the
sentence to life in prison. That's not "getting away" with anything, by the
way. The only alternative to execution is life without parole.
In 4 of those cases, Florida juries had recommended life sentences, but were
overruled by the judges. At least 2 of those put to death were insane,
including 1 who believed he was being executed because he was Jesus. And 2 were
Vietnam veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
It's hard to understand what's happening because when it comes to open
government, death row clemency is a black hole. Everything about the process is
secret unless the governor or Cabinet chooses to hold a public hearing, which
hasn't happened since the Jeb Bush administration.
There's no way to know whether the governor is receiving erroneous reports from
his staff or from the Commission on Offender Review, which reviews clemency
Neither is there a way to tell whether the governor even reads the files for
Like his predecessors, Gov. Rick Scott routinely signs death warrants without
saying why he denied clemency, other than that he found no reason. We asked his
spokeswoman. She said: "His foremost concerns are consideration for the
families of the victims and the finality of judgment."
Those final words say more than she may have realized. "Finality" is the mantra
of appellate courts that have decided they've heard enough from a prisoner. Now
it's the governor's mantra, too?
But what if the criminal justice system got it wrong?
It's not a hypothetical question. Florida leads the nation in death row
exonerations, with 27. That means that in sentencing someone to death, the
state has gotten it wrong 27 times.
Given that sobering statistic, you have to wonder how many innocent people may
have been executed or remain on death row.
Gov. Scott has presided over 26 executions, more than any governor since they
were resumed in 1979. The latest took place Wednesday, when Patrick Hannon was
killed by chemical injection for his role in killing 2 Tampa men in 1991.
The governor's silence about his use of the ultimate punishment is an insult to
the people of Florida. Nothing in government is as grave as the power to choose
between life and death. He should be accountable for how he uses it. Does he
read the letters sent him by families, attorneys or prisoners? Has he ever
questioned the reports and requested more information? Has he ever had doubts?
It's not "soft on crime" for a governor to commute a death row sentence to life
without parole. In many ways, life without hope is a fate worse than death.
Former governors understood this.
From 1925 through 1964, the start of an unofficial nationwide moratorium,
Florida governors commuted 55 of the 250 death sentences that came to their
desks, a rate of 22 %. Every governor spared at least 1 in 5. 2 commuted nearly
The most famous instance was LeRoy Collins's 1956 decision to spare Walter Lee
Irvin, a black man condemned for the alleged rape of a white woman in Lake
County. In the aftermath, a posse killed a man who had been with Irvin that
day. Irvin, along with 2 others, was badly beaten. Later, while being
transported to jail, he was shot by a sheriff, but survived.
The Irvin commutation was used against Collins in his re-election campaign. He
"My conscience told me that this was a bad case, badly handled, badly tried,
and now on this bad performance I was asked to take a man's life. My conscience
would not let me do it," he said.
Collins was vindicated. The "Groveland 4" had been framed. This year, the
Florida Legislature formally apologized for the injustice and asked Scott to
pardon them posthumously. He has yet to say whether he will.
The Collins example deserves to be followed, not ignored.
Among the proposals filed by members of the Florida Constitution Revision
Commission is one that would repeal the death penalty. This deserves serious
At a minimum, the commission should open the curtains on how governors use or
don't use the power of clemency. Given how often Florida sends the wrong person
to death row, we need, as Rehnquist said, a fail-safe backstop.
(source: Editorial, Sun Sentinel)
Search warrants, court filings add details in Butler double homicide----Police
investigating a 2016 double homicide in Butler County have been exploring the
social media accounts of the four co-defendants and their online interactions
Kentucky State Police obtained search warrants in October for information on
the Facebook accounts of 7 people believed to have been associated with Charles
Lindsey, Kayla Ford, Arlexis Kawai and Helen Rone. Those 4 have been charged in
connection with the deaths of 2 people whose bodies were found Nov. 9, 2016, in
a 1999 Ford Crown Victoria that had been set on fire in the 700 block of
Lindsey, 33, of Roundhill, is charged with 2 counts of murder and 1 count each
of 1st-degree arson and tampering with physical evidence. He could face the
death penalty if convicted as charged.
Rone, 22, of Roundhill; Ford, 27, of Edmonton; and Kawai, 22, of Bowling Green,
are each charged with 2 counts of complicity to murder, 2 counts of
facilitation of murder and 1 count each of 1st-degree complicity to arson,
1st-degree facilitation of arson and tampering with physical evidence.
Court records name the victims as Cory Hampton, 28, and Britany Tomes, 17. The
car in which their bodies were found was registered to Hampton, according to
Ford, Kawai and Rone are accused of following Lindsey as he drove from
Roundhill to the scene of the double homicide and then drove him away from the
Court records indicate Rone sent a picture of Hampton's car from her Facebook
messenger account to Kawai's on the night before the double homicide and that
Rone and Kawai also discussed "whether Hampton had money and/or drugs in his
possession" that night, according to one of several motions for discovery filed
in the case by Lindsey's attorney, Sam Lowe of the Department of Public
The search warrants obtained by police seek all information, uploaded photos
and messages sent between Oct. 1, 2016, and Dec. 1, 2016, on the Facebook
accounts of 7 people, 2 of whom Lindsey reportedly identified as being present
at the scene of the homicides. None of those 7 people are charged with a crime
in connection with the double homicide.
Police ascertained that the co-defendants and the victims had active Facebook
accounts and "affiliations with 1 another through shared friends and/or wall
Investigators sought search warrants for Facebook accounts belonging to Sherman
Watkins, Tonia Flowers and Pete Strickland.
In affidavits supporting the request for warrants, KSP Detective Joshua Amos
stated that Lindsey disclosed in a police interview that he believed Watkins
and Strickland were "involved in the murders and/or present at the scene."
A search warrant granting access to a Facebook account for Jeffery Johnson was
sought on the basis that Johnson knows how Hampton and Lindsey met.
"A review of defendant Lindsey's Facebook account reveals that in the days
immediately preceding the murders there was communication between Lindsey and
Johnson via Facebook," Amos stated in an affidavit.
Police sought access to Robert Flood's Facebook page because "Ford was using
Flood's Facebook to communicate with Rone," Amos said in an affidavit.
Information on a Facebook page for Jason Bradley was sought by KSP because
police found evidence that Bradley was angry at Hampton's involvement with
Bradley's girlfriend, court records show.
Police also requested a search warrant for Sara Meyers' Facebook account
because of evidence that Meyers spoke with Hampton via Facebook on the day
before the double homicide, according to an affidavit for a search warrant.
Lindsey, Ford, Kawai and Rone are scheduled to appear Dec. 20 for a pretrial
conference in Butler Circuit Court before Special Judge John Grise.
It is possible the judge will take up 2 motions filed in October by Lowe to
prevent Lindsey's co-defendants from testifying at his trial.
Lowe said in his motion that Ford, Kawai and Rone gave statements to police
about the incident, with each maintaining they did not see Lindsey kill the 2
victims or set the Crown Victoria on fire.
The line of questioning pursued by police suggested to Lindsey's co-defedants
that picking Lindsey up from the scene amounts to being complicit to murder,
regardless of whether they knew what Lindsey was doing, Lowe argues.
"After it was suggested that they could be convicted of murder simply by
picking (Lindsey) up, regardless of whether they knew what he did, they then
each said that they picked up (the) defendant, saw nothing unusual and then at
a later time he confessed to committing the murders," Lowe states in his
The threat of being punished for murder for picking up Lindsey from the scene
"calls into question whether they will honor their obligation to tell the
truth" at a jury trial, according to Lowe.
In a separate motion, Lowe has requested that 2 interviews Lindsey gave to KSP
not be admitted as evidence.
Lindsey was interviewed 4 times by police. Lowe is seeking to suppress the
final 2 interviews, given Nov. 20, 2016, and Dec. 1, 2016, after Lindsey was
During the course of those interviews, Lindsey had a pending theft charge in
Allen County that was unrelated to the Butler County case.
Lindsey had a different lawyer in the theft case, and Lowe claims there was no
evidence that Lindsey and the other attorney had a "meaningful discussion ...
concerning the consequences of waiving his right to remain silent."
Lowe argues that when a defendant in a pending criminal case discusses another
case with law enforcement, that discussion will negatively affect the 1st case,
in the form of a plea offer carrying a tougher penalty, revocation of bond or
an attempt to introduce the facts from 1 pending case as evidence against the
defendant in the other case.
"In order for an attorney who is representing a client on an active case to be
effective counsel, the attorney must have knowledge that law enforcement wishes
to interview a defendant on a subsequent case and thoroughly advise the client
whether to speak or remain silent," Lowe said in the motion.
A list of items of evidence provided to the defense by Butler County
Commonwealth's Attorney Blake Chambers takes up several pages in court filings
and includes security camera footage from various locations, recordings of
several police interviews, crime scene photos, Facebook records, state medical
examiner's reports and reports from multiple fire departments.
(source: Bowling Green Daily News)
Missouri judge faces rare chance to impose death penalty
A southwest Missouri jury's inability to decide whether a man should be put to
death for kidnapping and killing a 10-year-old girl sets up a rare situation
where a judge will make that decision.
Circuit Judge Thomas Mountjoy is scheduled to announce Jan. 11 whether Craig
Wood will get the death penalty or be sentenced to life in prison. Wood was
convicted of kidnapping and killing Hailey Owen in Springfield in February 2014
but the jury announced Monday that it couldn???t reach a unanimous decision on
Missouri and Indiana are the only states where a judge can impose a death
sentence, while other states follow the federal procedure that defendant is
sentenced to life in prison if a jury can't reach a decision on the death
penalty, The Springfield News-Leader reported. But in 2016, the U.S. Supreme
Court ruled that only a jury, not a judge, can make that decision.
Robert Dunham, executive director of the nonprofit Death Penalty Information
Center, said a judge-imposed sentence might contradict the Supreme Court
ruling. He said if Mountjoy imposes the death penalty, the constitutionality of
the process will "unquestionably" be challenged by Wood's attorneys during the
But Wood's attorney Patrick Berrigan declined to comment on his legal strategy.
Berrigan, a public defender who handles only death penalty cases, said it's
been more than 20 years since he had a case where a judge imposed the death
Judge Mountjoy did not respond to News-Leader requests asking if he has ever
been in this situation before.
Dunham said Missouri jurors have not imposed a death sentence since 2013, but
the state's hung jury procedure allowed judges to sentence a few men to death
row in recent years. He did not have statistics on how many times that has
happened in Missouri.
"It raises very serious questions about circumventing the will of the public,"
Dunham said. "Especially in a state where no jury has sentenced anyone to death
for 5 years."
Judge rules against cameras in Hannibal man's murder trial
Cameras will not be allowed in the courtroom during the Timothy Brokes murder
Judge Rachel Bringer Shepherd made the ruling Thursday saying it would
"materially interfere with the rights of the parties to a fair trial."
The Herald-Whig's news-gathering partners at WGEM and Quincy TV station KHQA
both asked the court to allow for cameras. The request also asked to allow
reporters to post to social media in the courtroom and to stream the proceeding
Representatives for both TV stations made statements before Bringer Shepherd on
Nov. 1. The request was opposed by Brokes' counsel.
Brokes, 36, has pleaded not guilty to charges of 1st-degree murder and armed
criminal action in the Jan. 12, 2016, shooting death of Brittany S. Gauch, 30,
and to charges of first-degree assault and armed criminal action in the
shooting of her husband, Aaron M. Gauch, 32, the same day. Both were shot in
Marion County Prosecuting Attorney David Clayton said in September that he will
seek the death penalty against Brokes.
Brokes also is facing charges in Monroe County in connection with the shooting
of a Monroe City police officer Jan. 13, 2016. He has pleaded not guilty to
charges of assault on a law enforcement officer, armed criminal action and
hindering prosecution of a felony in Monroe County Circuit Court.
He is scheduled to return to court Nov. 27 for a motion to suppress hearing.
Brokes continues to be held in the Marion County Jail.
(source for both: Associated Press)
Analysis: Halted Execution Deepens Conservative Ire at Court----The Arkansas
Supreme Court's decision to halt another execution will only deepen the ire of
conservatives at the court over death penalty cases, but it's too soon to tell
what the political fallout will be.
The Arkansas Supreme Court's decision to halt another execution last week will
only further the complaints lobbed by conservatives who say the court is
denying closure to victims' families. But it's too soon to tell what the
political fallout will be and whether it'll factor into any races next year.
Justices last week granted an emergency stay for Jack Greene, who had been
sentenced to death in the 1991 killing of Sidney Burnett, while justices take
up a case related to claims that the convicted murderer is severely mentally
ill. It marked the 4th execution halted this year by the court, which spared 3
of the 8 inmates Arkansas had planned to put to death before its supply of a
lethal injection drug expired at the end of April.
The state's top attorney said she wouldn't appeal the order and vented
frustration at the court over its 5-2 decision.
"With no written order or explanation provided, the Arkansas Supreme Court has
once again delayed justice for the family of Sidney Burnett," Attorney General
Leslie Rutledge said in a statement. "I will continue to fight for justice for
Sidney Burnett and to give the Burnett family the closure they deserve."
The stay revived conservatives' criticism of the court, which grew in April
when justices scaled back what had been an unprecedented plan to put 8 inmates
to death over an 11-day period. Arkansas ultimately carried out 4 executions
that month after 3 inmates were spared by the state high court and another by a
"These guys committed heinous crimes. They have been convicted and convicted
and convicted, and now we have what appears to be activism on our justices'
side to basically re-victimize the families and victims," said Republican Sen.
The criticism is striking for a court that has shifted to the right in recent
elections. Outside groups and candidates spent more than $1.6 million last year
on a pair of high court races that were among the most expensive and bitterly
fought judicial campaigns in the state's history. Arkansas was among a number
of states where conservative groups spent millions on such efforts.
As in April, part of the furor has focused on the lack of a detailed ruling
elaborating on the court's reason for the stay. The court issued a 1-page
decision granting Greene's request for a stay, the same approach taken when it
halted three other executions in April. Greene's attorneys asked for the stay
so they can appeal a lower court's decision to dismiss their challenge to an
Arkansas law giving the state's top prison official authority to determine the
inmate's mental competency.
"It's just troubling. I want to know the reason why we're delaying justice to
these families so we can properly move forward," Republican Sen. Trent Garner
said last week.
The ruling also came days after the court threw another new potential obstacle
at efforts to continue executions, ruling that a 2015 law keeping secret the
source of Arkansas' lethal injection drugs protected suppliers and sellers but
not manufacturers. A New York company revealed last week as the maker of
Arkansas' newly obtained supply of midazolam, 1 of 3 drugs used in the lethal
injection process, said it didn't want its products used for executions and
said it doesn't sell drugs for that purpose.
The 1st big test of whether there's any backlash over the stays will come next
year, with 1 of the state's 7 Supreme Court seats on the ballot. Supreme Court
Justice Courtney Goodson, whose seat is up next year, has not said whether
she'll seek re-election. Goodson, who voted for the stays, lost her bid for
chief justice last year after conservative groups blanketed the state with ads
Poll numbers last week also showed just how much Arkansans' strong support of
the death penalty contrasts with a national decline in recent years. 72 % of
respondents in the University of Arkansas' annual Arkansas poll supported death
penalty as a punishment for murder. The poll has a margin of error of plus or
minus 3.5 % points.
"The average Arkansas voter on this core issue is just different from the
average American voter," said Janine Parry, the director of the poll.
(source: Associated Press)
Ada County's rift with association almost costs Boise-area taxpayers big bucks
Idaho's most populated county's plan to go it alone in hopes of saving money
lasted only 2 days.
The Ada County Commission voted quickly and unanimously on Thursday to reverse
its earlier decision to withdraw from Idaho's Capital Crimes Defense Fund and
refuse to sign a joint powers agreement for criminal defense. It did so after
learning that the move, rather than saving the money, would cost taxpayers
hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The commissioners had decided to drop out of both of those along with its
membership in the Idaho Association of Counties, and informed outgoing
Association of Counties chief Dan Chadwick in a letter on Tuesday.
Then, the county got a disturbing call from the State Appellate Public
"They said we have 167 appeals we need to bring by," Tony Geddes, Ada County
public defender, told the 3 commissioners on Thursday morning.
Withdrawing from the Capital Crimes Defense Fund, which the Legislature
established in 1998, would remove Ada County's access to the services of the
State Appellate Public Defender, whose office provides both felony appeals
representation when county costs for an individual case exceed $10,000, and
capital case representation. It was set up to save counties money. Typically,
30 to 40 % of the office's work involves Ada County cases, according to the
State Appellate Public Defender Eric Fredericksen.
Last year, the state-funded office spent nearly $700,000 on Ada County cases.
There also are 2 pending death penalty cases from Ada County that the SAPD's
office is handling: The Erick Hall post-conviction appeals, involving Hall's
rape and murder of 2 women in Ada County in 2002 and 2003; and the case of Azad
Abdullah, who was convicted in 2004 of 1st-degree murder in the arson death of
his wife, Angie.
The SAPD's work meets all constitutional standards for public defense. As a
result, it was excluded from the ACLU lawsuit that's challenging Idaho's public
defense system in counties across the state as constitutionally defective. The
Idaho Association of Counties administers the fund.
"All 44 counties are participating in the fund," said Kelli Brassfield, the
Idaho Association of Counties government affairs associate. The association
administers the fund.
The Capital Crimes Defense Fund assesses counties fees using a formula based on
population, but the fund had sufficient reserves that it didn't assess any fees
this year or last year.
Ada Commissioner Jim Tibbs said the last time Ada County was assessed, the
charge was $200,000.
"We are very frugal with the county's money," Tibbs said. "Nobody knew this was
tied to the SAPD, and that you have to be a participant ... to even get the
services of the SAPD."
Geddes told the commissioners their withdrawal from the fund caused a
"It's an obscure statute," he said. "Not everyone knows about it."
Geddes said the commissioners could make a "simple fix" by voting to "re-engage
in the Capital Crimes Defense Fund and avoid losing the services of the state
appellate public defender," adding, "There are a lot of people that would be
Commission Chairman Dave Case said, "Including the 3 people on this side of the
table," referring to the 3 county commissioners.
"The good news is that there were no serious problems caused as a result of
it," Tibbs said after the commission voted to rejoin the defense fund. "We were
able to catch the problem, and we're fixing it."
The Ada commissioners are sticking by their decision, however, to drop their
membership in the Idaho Association of Counties, which also charges fees based
on population, and would have charged Ada County nearly $44,000. All 44
counties in Idaho have belonged to the association, which was formed in 1976
and advocates for county issues at state Legislature, provides training and
technical assistance, and coordinates numerous other programs.
"We don't really get much of anything out of it. It's mainly for the rural
counties," Tibbs said. "We weren't getting the representation that we thought
we deserved for the amount of money we're paying."
The Ada commissioners have decided to spend the money they otherwise would have
spent on IAC dues on hiring their own lobbyists for the upcoming legislative
session. They've hired Jeremy Chou and Ken McClure of Givens Pursley for
Governors play a central role in Nevada's death penalty; group appealing to
Sandoval to stop planned execution
The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada plans to deliver a petition to
Gov. Brian Sandoval on Monday, asking him to urge the prisons director to
refrain from using a lethal injection drug combination that's never before been
used to carry out the death penalty.
Although there are a range of ways to stop an execution in Nevada, ACLU
officials believe this is their best hope for staving off the ultimate
punishment of inmate Scott Dozier, who has been convicted of 2 murders but
voluntarily abandoned his appeals and is urging the state to carry out the
penalty. The execution, originally scheduled for Tuesday, is on hold over
concerns about the lethal injection method and now hinges on an order from the
Nevada Supreme Court; it's unclear when that will come.
"Without more details about the state's plan, it is not clear if the execution
will be humane or violate the Constitution," the ACLU said in its petition,
which has several hundred signatures. "We need your help to get Governor
Sandoval to stop this execution while so many questions remain about it."
With laws on the death penalty varying dramatically from state to state,
governors play a central role in the practice. They can veto bills to abolish
the practice and wield the power to call off an execution - wide authority that
adds weight to the outcome of Nevada's 2018 gubernatorial election.
Sandoval, a former federal judge, included funds for a new execution chamber in
his 2015 budget proposal and signaled his opposition to a death penalty
abolition bill that emerged in the 2017 legislative session but was never
brought up for a vote and died in committee. He said he supports the death
penalty even though he's Catholic and some of his faith's leaders are adamantly
against it; Pope Francis declared in October that the practice was "contrary to
"It's obviously difficult for me, I'm Catholic," Sandoval said in an interview
with The Nevada Independent in late October. "But at the same time, I've always
supported the death penalty, and the egregious circumstances whereby an
operation of law, a jury of his peers has made that decision ... I support the
He's also expressed confidence in the lethal injection cocktail that the ACLU
wants him to block.
"I don't know if I'd call it unknown," the governor said. "I've got to rely
upon the expertise, the medical expertise, of the state medical officer, and
based on his analysis and recommendations, he feels that it's going to work, so
I trust his judgment."
A governor's role
An execution can be held off for a variety of reasons, most commonly as a
conviction or sentence is appealed. It can also be stayed while a court
investigates the offender's mental sanity or intellectual capacity, or if the
inmate is pregnant.
But Nevada law also provides other routes.
The state Constitution empowers a governor to "grant reprieves for a period not
exceeding sixty days dating from the time of conviction, for all offenses,
except in cases of impeachment."
The ACLU, citing the minutes of a constitutional convention in 1864, interprets
that language as granting the governor the chance to postpone the imposition of
a sentence by up to 60 days at a time. The intent, according to framers'
dialogue, was to allow time for a pardons board to convene and to avoid giving
unfettered pardoning power to a single person.
The constitution lays out a more permanent process: The State Board of Pardons
Commissioners, which includes Sandoval, Attorney General Adam Laxalt and all 7
justices on the Nevada Supreme Court, can commute (reduce) a sentence. That
happens if at least a majority of members vote to do so, and the governor must
be among the group voting in the affirmative.
The board typically meets twice a year - most recently last week - and has wide
latitude to reduce sentences or pardon people (nullify the consequences of the
original conviction, such as loss of voting rights, loss of the right to bear
arms, or occupational licensing restrictions). But while it's technically an
option, observers say Dozier???s case has virtually no chance of ending up
"It's really the wrong vehicle," said Scott Coffee, a Clark County public
defender who's been active on death penalty issues. "It's like trying to take a
sailboat through the Mojave Desert."
For one, Nevada Administrative Code says the board won't consider applications
for a commutation or pardon from someone sentenced to death unless they've
exhausted all available judicial appeals. Dozier has voluntarily given up
further appeals but could reverse course on that decision if he chooses.
2nd, there are timeline hurdles. A petition for a commutation must be turned in
90 days before the Board of Pardons Commissioners meets; the next meeting is
expected to be in May.
3rd, pardons and commutations are typically only handed down in extraordinary
situations, such as when a prisoner has shown exceptional conduct or when
there's been a drastic change in circumstances since conviction. A pardon
granted last week to Fred Steese, for example, came after new evidence emerged
in his murder case, and a lower court judge ruled he was actually innocent.
Commutations are rare: the board has historically received about 1,000
petitions for commutation each year, grants hearings in about 20 cases a year
and actually hands down a commutation in about half of those cases. Pardons,
which are usually granted in cases where there's been a significant amount of
time since the person was discharged, were handed down 11 times in 2016.
The governor retains significant power in the pardon and commutation process -
he has discretion to remove any application from consideration by the board
even if staff approve it for board review.
Only 1 death row inmate has been granted clemency by a Nevada governor since
the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976 - that was Thomas
Nevius in 2002.
The pardons board, chaired by Gov. Kenny Guinn, unanimously commuted Nevius'
sentence from death to life without parole after the U.S. Supreme Court banned
executions of people with "mental retardation." Convicted of 2 murders, Nevius
had been scheduled for execution 3 times but each instance was called off
because of appeals.
Evidence of his disability was not properly provided during the trial phase,
and several jurors said they wouldn???t have voted for execution had they seen
it. According to an Associated Press article from the time of his pardon,
Nevius, "whose lawyers said he knew something 'good' had occurred, murmured his
thanks as officers led him away."
Where do Nevada governor hopefuls stand?
Laxalt's campaign did not respond to requests for comment about his position on
the death penalty.
But according to the Nevada Appeal, which interviewed Laxalt Monday at a Carson
City restaurant during the candidate's statewide campaign launch tour, the
perceived Republican frontrunner said he believes in the death penalty in spite
of being a devout Catholic. The newspaper reported that he declined comment on
the execution of Scott Dozier, noting that he's representing the state and
handling legal action related to the execution.
Jordan Smith, one of Laxalt's subordinates, has been arguing in court on behalf
of the Nevada Department of Corrections. The agency wants to use a 3-drug
combination in the lethal injection that includes a paralytic, but Judge
Jennifer Togliatti has barred the 3rd drug, citing a defense expert witness
anesthesiologist who said it could mask signs that the other 2 drugs aren't
working and lead to Dozier being conscious of a "horrifying" suffocation death.
The state, which stands by the original 3-drug cocktail plan, sought and
received a stay of the execution so the Nevada Supreme Court can weigh in on
The Republican state treasurer said he generally supports the death penalty.
"The death penalty is the state's ultimate punishment for a criminal
defendant," he said in a statement. "Am I morally opposed to it? No. But its
use depends on the facts and circumstances of each case."
The Clark County commissioner, former state lawmaker and Democratic
gubernatorial candidate is opposed to the death penalty and welcomes discussion
"It's a tough debate, but it's worthwhile having that discussion," she said in
an interview. "At some point, the cost to the taxpayer for all the appeals and
the length of time and the individuals who have to be trained to make sure they
get the right defense ... It's 20 years in some cases. So really what are we
fighting over? The person should be in prison without the opportunity for
parole. Make them have to think about what they did."
She said Nevada's independent streak explains some of the state's death penalty
trends - it's had 12 executions in the past 40 years, far less than some states
such as Texas but far from states that have had bans for more than 100 years.
"I do think Nevadans are pretty pragmatic as far as where they stand whether
it's on this issue or education or whatnot," she said. "I don't think we should
assume just because we're the West that we're always so far to the right or so
far to the left as far as that's concerned. Texas wants to execute everybody."
"It was never a deterrent," she added. "Somebody that's going to be bad is
going to be bad no matter what."
The Clark County Commission chairman and Democratic candidate is against the
"I'm opposed to capital punishment," he said in a brief interview. "One,
there's a cost factor associated with it that's significant. Two, I think there
have been cases where it was proven that the wrong person was executed, and 3,
that I don't think that I should play God in terms of determining who dies and
(source: The Nevada Independent)
A service courtesy of Washburn University School of Law www.washburnlaw.edu
DeathPenalty mailing list