You’re On Death Row, You’ve Asked to Die, But the State Won’t Kill You

(AP Photo/Pat Sullivan, File)

At the Marshall Project, Maurice Chammah reports on convicted murderer Scott Dozier who sits on death row in Nevada. Called a “volunteer” for abandoning his appeals, in October, 2016, Dozier hand-wrote a letter to a judge asking to be put to death. His actions have sparked controversy in the justice system, creating “a dilemma for states that want the harshness of death sentences without the messiness of carrying them out.” Meanwhile, as the wheels of justice spin in circles, Scott Dozier still waits to die.

On the day he had been scheduled to die, Scott Dozier arrived at the visiting room inside Ely State Prison looking edgy and exhausted. He’d been thwarted. For more than a year, he had worked to ensure his own execution, waiving his legal appeals and asking a Las Vegas judge to set a date. But with just days to go, the judge had issued a stay amid questions about the drugs Nevada planned to inject into him.

Of the more than 1,400 men and women who have been executed in the U.S. in the last four decades, roughly one in 10 have abandoned their appeals. In the legal community, they’re known as “volunteers.” But few volunteers have set off as much legal and political upheaval as Dozier. Like many death penalty states, Nevada hasn’t actually executed anyone in years. Dozier’s request spurred a frenzy of preparations involving state and federal lawyers, judges, political leaders and prison officials, who had to rev up an execution apparatus that had been dormant for a decade.

That a man deemed unfit to live in society — indeed, to live at all — could wield such influence is a testament to our country’s conflicted views on the death penalty. We have a president who has extolled capital punishment in tweets and full-page newspaper ads, while exonerations have fueled unease about the system’s flaws. Death sentences have plummeted, and as appeals drag on for years, many condemned prisoners die of old age before they can be executed. It can seem as though we like the idea of the ultimate punishment just so long as we don’t have to kill anyone. And then comes Scott Dozier, calling our bluff.

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