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November 15, 2018

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Ely mayor: Execution a ‘reality’ of hosting a maximum-security prison

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Leila Navidi / Las Vegas Sun

This file photo shows signs for businesses in downtown Ely, Nev.

Updated Tuesday, July 10, 2018 | 6 p.m.

As Nevada prepares to carry out its first execution in more than a decade, the small, isolated town of Ely is indirectly drawing attention.

Ely has about 4,000 residents and was founded in east-central Nevada in the 1870s as a trading post. The Ely State Prison, a maximum-security facility that is home to the state’s execution chamber, is located on 23 acres about 10 miles north of town in unincorporated White Pine County. The prison employs about 400 people to tend to its 1,150 inmates. It’s the Ely area’s second-largest employer behind the mining industry.

“The prison plays a very important part in the community as an economic base,” Ely Mayor Melody Van Camp said.

Van Camp, 64, was born and raised in Ely, the seat of White Pine County. She has watched the community expand from strictly a mining town to one where some of the state’s most dangerous criminals are incarcerated.

While the scheduled execution of Scott Raymond Dozier — the first in Nevada since 2006 — already has drawn attention from afar, Van Camp said Wednesday would be business as usual in Ely. Execution is scheduled for 8 p.m. for Dozier, a two-time convicted murderer. Prison officials first, though, will await the outcome of a last-minute legal effort by a New Jersey drugmaker that filed suit Tuesday to stop the use of its product in the execution.

The drugmaker, Alvogen, says in court filings that it doesn’t allow uses of midazolam in executions, that the state of Nevada obtained the drug illegally and that midazolam’s use in executions in other states has led to widespread criticism that the process has been botched.

Clark County District Court Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez scheduled a 9 a.m. hearing Wednesday to hear arguments and expects to decide just hours before the scheduled execution whether Alvogen can at least temporarily stop Nevada from using the drug.

The lawsuit notwithstanding, playing host to an execution is “a reality” of having a maximum-security prison as part of the town’s fabric, Van Camp said, and most residents have not voiced their opinions publicly.

“I think most people have thoughts on the execution,” she said. “But no complaints have made their way to my office.”

The magnitude of the execution,which will be witnessed by Dozier’s family, along with seven members of the news media, has not substantially affected the town’s visitation numbers this week, said a representative of the local convention center. As of Monday, nearly half of the 700 hotel rooms in town still remained available for Tuesday and Wednesday, a spokeswoman from the Bristlecone Convention Center said.

Van Camp said most residents understood that unpleasant events, like executions, could come with housing criminals. But the town has other, more pressing needs.

Limited access to broadband internet and a remote location more than 100 miles away from the closest interstate highway, Ely historically has encountered trouble attracting workers and visitors. Michael Green, a history professor at UNLV, said the prison, opened in 1989, essentially salvaged the town’s economy as the importance of mining and railroads declined through the 20th century.

“The prison matters to the population much as mining did when it was so dominant,” Green said.

To maintain strong ties with its economic driver, Ely officials routinely invite prison leaders to partake in community events. In recent months, prison officials have given speeches and brought dozens of confiscated prisoner contraband items to the local White Pine Public Museum.

Last month, the town auctioned off donated art from prisoners — including two pieces by Dozier — to Ely residents. Some of the proceeds were donated back to the prison to assist with the facility’s expenses.

Dozier is set to be executed after a 2007 conviction for the 2002 drug-related murder of Jeremiah Miller, 22, in Las Vegas. In 2005, Dozier was convicted of second-degree murder in Arizona for the 2001 slaying of Jasen Greene in Phoenix.

Prison officials plan for Dozier to be subjected to a new three-drug combination, featuring the execution debut of fentanyl, a powerful opioid painkiller, and cisatracurium, a paralytic. Those two drugs would follow a dosage of Alvogen’s midazolam, a sedative used to depress breathing.

Dozier waived his right to appeal his execution in 2016, telling Clark County District Judge Jennifer Togliatti he would rather die than spend more years living on death row. The Nevada Supreme Court in May approved Dozier’s execution on procedural grounds, prior to Alvogen’s latest legal maneuver.

Don’t expect many of the town’s leaders to be consumed by the legal arguments or the execution — if it takes place as planned. They have other battles to wage.

“We have a lot of things going on besides an execution,” Van Camp said. “We’ve struggled to make this a place where people from out of town want to live.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.