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March 18, 2019

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Nevada Supreme Court considers allowing first execution since 2006

Scott Raymond Dozier

Ken Ritter / AP

Nevada death row inmate Scott Raymond Dozier confers with Lori Teicher, a federal public defender involved in his case, during a Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017, appearance in Clark County District Court in Las Vegas.

CARSON CITY — Nevada's Supreme Court is considering whether to allow the state to move forward with its first execution of a death row inmate in 12 years.

Federal public defenders and the American Civil Liberties Union are challenging Nevada's plan to use a combination of three drugs never tried before in the United States.

Twice-convicted killer Scott Raymond Dozier says he wants to be put to death as soon as possible, and doesn't care what drugs are used in the fatal injection that a judge in Las Vegas blocked in November after opponents argued one of the drugs could cover up potential suffering.

The Supreme Court scheduled an hour's worth of oral arguments Tuesday in Carson City. A ruling is not expected Tuesday and could be months away.

The ACLU says the experimental mixture of drugs includes a paralytic that's illegal to use when euthanizing pets in Nevada.

It says the execution would violate the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibiting "cruel and unusual punishment" as well the Nevada constitution, which outlaws "either" cruel or unusual punishment.

Among the questions the federal public defender and ACLU say must be answered is whether the state is required to establish the "severity and duration of pain likely to be produced." They argue Dozier could be "awake and aware for several minutes while suffering and suffocating to death."

ACLU lawyer Amy Rose said it could result "in a tortuous death akin to waterboarding."

"Causing death by suffocation is not only cruel, but torture," she said last week.

Dozier, 47, was found guilty of the 2007 murder and dismemberment of 22-year-old Jeremiah Miller, whose torso was found in a suitcase dumped into a trash bin in Las Vegas. He also was convicted in 2005 of second-degree murder of another victim, whose torso was found buried in the Arizona desert.

"My overarching and near singular desire is to get my execution done as expeditiously as possible," Dozier wrote in a handwritten note Dec. 12 letter from Ely state prison.

"The bottom line is: It's his choice," chief Clark County district attorney Jonathan VanBoskerck said.

Nevada has executed 12 inmates since capital punishment was reinstated by the legislature in 1977. The last was Daryl Mack, who was put to death by lethal injection on April 26, 2006 for the 1988 rape and murder of a Reno woman, Betty Jane May.

Nevada is among several states that have struggled in recent years to find drugs after pharmaceutical companies and distributors banned their use in executions.

The Nevada Department of Corrections wants to use a three-drug mix including the sedative diazepam, commonly known as Valium, the powerful opioid painkiller fentanyl and the paralytic, cisatracurium.

Dozier's execution was called off last November after Clark County Judge Jennifer Togliatti in Las Vegas decided prison officials could use the first two drugs, which an expert medical witness testified would probably be enough to cause death. She temporarily banned the use of the paralytic out of concerns that its effect would prevent witnesses from seeing indications of pain if Dozier suffers.