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Death Penalty: Outdated Or Underused?

Nevada has 82 prisoners on death row but has not executed anyone since 2006.

Even so, Governor Brian Sandoval wants to spend $800,000 on a new death chamber.

But the death penalty is under scrutiny nationwide. According to the Innocence Project, at least 20 people on death row were later found to be innocent.

A Nevada audit in December found death penalty cases cost nearly twice as much as non-capital cases to try in court.

Vanessa Spinazola, the legislative and advocacy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, told KNPR’s State of Nevada those are only two of the reasons the death penalty should be eliminated.

“The state killing our citizens is absolutely the worst depravation of civil liberties we can think of. One-hundred fifty people have been exonerated since 1973,” Spinazola said.

Mark Klaas has a personal view of the death penalty. In 1993, Klaas’ daughter, Polly, was kidnapped, raped and murdered in a case that made national headlines. The man who killed Polly Klaas is sitting on death row in California.

Klaas said the death penalty is fair and just. He also points out the reason death penalty cases cost so much are the endless appeals and he said death penalty opponents are putting up those roadblocks.

“These people, if they’re truly concerned about cost, if they’re truly concerned about justice, get out of the way,” Klaas said.

But for Spinazola, the appeals are necessary because of how the justice system works.

She is also concerned about the experimental drugs being used instead of lethal injection drugs used in the past. A prisoner in Oklahoma writhed in pain for nearly an hour after an experimental cocktail was used in his execution.  

“It is a cruel way to die,” Spinazola said.

However, Klaas disagrees. He said most people on death row are convicted of such brutal crimes they don’t deserve society’s sympathy.

 “They don’t give any consideration at all to the last moments of their victims’ lives,” Klaas said, “For us to get teary-eyed and worried about the last 10 minutes about an executed prisoner’s life is absolutely preposterous.”  

Copyright 2015 KNPR-FM. To see more, visit

Marc Klaas, father of murder victim Polly Klaas and founder of KlaasKids Foundation; Vanessa Spinazola, Legislative and Advocacy Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada

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Casey Morell is the coordinating producer of Nevada Public Radio's flagship broadcast State of Nevada and one of the station's midday newscast announcers. (He's also been interviewed by Jimmy Fallon, whatever that's worth.)