Friday, March 29, 1996 | 11:59 a.m.
CARSON CITY -- A defense lawyer raced against the clock today to gain a stay of execution for Las Vegas killer Richard Moran, who would be the first Nevada inmate since 1961 to be put to death against his will.
Barring a late court order, Moran, 42, will be strapped to a gurney and wheeled into a second-floor room at the Nevada State Prison at 12:01 a.m. He then will be injected with a lethal dose of unidentified drugs with the "death needle."
Within minutes, he will be dead, if all goes according to the plan. The room formerly served as the gas chamber until Nevada changed its method of execution in 1983.
On Thursday, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals turned down the plea of Michael Pescetta, an assistant federal public defender from Las Vegas.
"We reject Moran's argument that he is actually innocent of the death penalty," Judge David Thompson wrote. The court said Moran failed to prove there was a miscarriage of justice in the case.
Pescetta immediately asked the full 9th U.S. Circuit Court to consider the case and postpone the execution. But he didn't hold out much hope for success. "It's a little late for optimism."
A spokesman for Gov. Bob Miller said there has been no request to delay the execution except one made in mid-March by Catholic Bishops Daniel Walsh of the Diocese of Las Vegas and Phillip Straling of the Diocese of Reno. Miller said then he was not inclined to grant a delay.
Capital punishment opponents plan to protest tonight at the prison, about three miles from downtown Carson City.
In Las Vegas, a vigil organized by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Episcopal Church is set for 9 p.m. in front of the Clark County Courthouse.
Executions are late at night or in the early morning to discourage demonstrators and also for prison security. All the inmates will be locked down.
Five men have been executed in Nevada since the state reinstated the death penalty in the mid-1970s. The last was Thomas Baal, who died June 3, 1990. But they have all voluntarily withdrawn their appeals and agreed to the execution.
Thayne Archibald, who kidnapped a man in California and killed him in Washoe County, was the last man who was executed against his will. Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, was the prosecutor in that case.
There were 77 murderers on death row.
As for Moran, "he's resigned to die, always hoping it won't happen," said the Rev. James Kelly, chaplain at the state prison in Ely, where Moran was housed until his transfer to Carson City two weeks ago.
The priest arrived at the Ely prison about 1 1/2 years ago and had frequent talks with Moran.
"He's very quiet and devoted," Kelly said. "He's very remorseful but he knows that doesn't help the family" of the victims.
As a last meal, Moran has requested lasagna, chicken Parmesan, a salad and ice cream, which will be served about 6 p.m.
About noon today, he was scheduled to be transferred to the "last-night cell." He will be housed there until he is taken to the death chamber.
Moran has been spending his final days making telephone calls and reading. "He's doing fine. He's calm," said Glen Whorton, prison spokesman.
Before coming to prison, Moran did not read much. But Kelly says he's "a good reader" now, primarily of religious publications.
"He's ready to accept the consequences," the priest said. "He's not blaming anybody for this." Kelly was with Moran during the final day.
Dr. Jack Jurasky, a psychiatrist, wrote after examining Moran, "It is the story of an ordinarily law-abiding intelligent member of society who became involved with alcohol and drugs to such an extent that he lost his wife, his job and placed his entire future in serious jeopardy."
This case, Jurasky said, "presents a severe indictment to anyone who would argue about the deadly and addictive qualities of cocaine abuse."
Moran worked as a roofer in New York but came to Las Vegas with a friend to look for a job around 1978. For 5 1/2 years, he was a bartender at the Bingo Palace.
During those years, he got more heavily into drugs, including cocaine, and would go two and three days without sleep.
He lost his job because of a change in personality brought on by the drug use. He used up all his money buying cocaine.
"My whole life has been drugs," he related in 1984 before he pleaded guilty. His marriage to Linda Vandervoort lasted less than a year.
During heavy bouts with drugs and liquor, he would black out at times. And he maintains he doesn't remember much about going into the Red Pearl Saloon, shooting two people, carrying out the cash register and then setting the place on fire to destroy the evidence.
Moran entered the Red Pearl Saloon on Aug. 2, 1984, and shot bartender Sandra Devere, 24, and off-duty cook Russell Rhodes, 27. Nine days later, he pumped five bullets into Vandervoort, 26, killing her.