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On Death Row, And Waiting To Die

death_chamber.jpg
Associated Press
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Scott Dozier wants to die.

He's made no bones about it.

But the problem is … nobody's quite sure how it will happen.

You see, Dozier's on death row in Nevada.

His execution date has been moved around countless times.

And now, Nevada isn't exactly sure how it plans to execute Dozier -- what with most drugs used in previous executions unavailable.

Maurice Chammah of the Marshall Project profiled Dozier, after spending time with the inmate at Ely State Prison and talking to him on the phone.

"If you didn't know what he was convicted of doing, he sounds like anybody else," Chammah told State of Nevada.

Dozier was convicted and sentenced to death for a particularly grisly murder. In 2002, he killed Jeremiah Miller and then cut up his body. He put Miller's torso into a suitcase and put iit n a dumpster near a Las Vegas motel.

Chammah said Dozier doesn't speak much about the crime and doesn't explicitly admit guilt, but he does say that, in the world of drugs he was operating in, people have to act disproportionally to avoid trouble.

"To me, that was gesturing at how this crime happened," Chammah said.

Dozier doesn't show the kind of remorse or regret some people might want or expect, Chammah said. Instead, the inmate seems resigned to how the world sees him and to his fate.

It is the resignation that has led him to stop the appeals process.

"He is resigned […] to the idea that he was sentenced to death and there is really no way out other than to go along and be executed -- and just take the punishment coming to him," Chammah said.

Chammah said that like many death row inmates, Dozier has decided that execution is better than a life behind bars with very little hope.

However, that decision has forced the state's hand. With Dozier asking to end the appeals process and go ahead with an execution, the state didn't have to address the problem of how to execute him.

The drugs used to execute people are difficult to find. Several years ago, pharmaceutical companies decided to stop supplying the drugs. 

Many states, including Nevada, started looking for alternatives.

"In this case, Nevada actually solicited -- I think -- 247 different suppliers of drugs and couldn't get a yes from any of them to get the drugs, and that's what precipitated developing this new drug protocol, which has never been used before in an execution in the United States," Chammah said.

Lawyers for Dozier say the untested drugs may cause pain and suffering, which falls under the idea of cruel and unusual punishment forbidden by the Constitution.

Death penalty opponents and attorneys from around the country are watching the Dozier case carefully. If the Nevada Supreme Court allows the drug cocktail to be used, it could have a far-reaching impact.

"If Nevada gets away with using a list of drugs that's very painful, it's going to cause pain for more of their clients and they see it as kind of a constitutional issue of cruel and unusual punishment," Chammah said.

Chammah said it is not about pain and suffering for Dozier, but about the impact the delay has on his family. Chammah said the only time he saw the convicted murderer cry was when he talked about the impact the legal wrangling is having on his family.

Dozier's family had come to accept his decision and had readied themselves to say goodbye, but now they'll have to wait again. The same kind of tension is there for the victim's family as well. Chammah said the legal back and forth in death penalty cases can be very difficult for everyone.

The Nevada Supreme Court has not said when it will make a decision on Dozier's case. 

"So, for Scott Dozier, he is essentially sitting on his hands with very little information and then one day he's going to be told -- theoretically -- 'You're three weeks away from death, so do all the things you need to do,'" Chammah said.

Maurice Chammah, the Marshall Project

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Prior to taking on the role of Broadcast Operations Manager in January 2021, Rachel was the senior producer of KNPR's State of Nevada program for 6 years. She helped compile newscasts and provided coverage for and about the people of Southern Nevada, as well as major events such as the October 1 shooting on the Las Vegas strip, protests of racial injustice, elections and more. Rachel graduated with a bachelor's degree of journalism and mass communications from New Mexico State University.
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.)