Old Nevada execution chamber may never be used again

The Nevada State Prison's death chamber, where 20 condemned men have died, would be replaced at a cost of $236,893, under a plan being reviewed by lawmakers.

The project, one of 112 state construction projects that would total $242 million, would end the use of a half-century-old chamber where 20 condemned men have entered through a submarine-type door to die.

NSP Warden Mike Budge, who has termed the old, second-floor execution area "almost medieval," said Tuesday the new, first-floor execution area "would be more of a clinical atmosphere, very plain and clean, and that's it."

The new execution area also would comply with federal laws that require wheelchair-access. Budge said that means access for anyone involved in the execution process -- guards, medical staffers, witnesses and others -- as well as any condemned inmates requiring a wheelchair.

In between any future executions, Budge said the new, 2,100-square-foot area would be used for storing mattresses produced in one of the prison industry programs.

Nevada's death row inmates now include 84 men and one woman. The old, 9-by-12-foot death chamber, first put into use in 1950, was last used in April 2001, when a screaming, sobbing Sebastian Stephanus Bridges, 37, was executed by lethal injection.

Bridges was convicted of shooting another man and letting him bleed to death in the desert outside Las Vegas.

Besides the death chamber, with its beige-painted walls, two bare light bulbs and a ventilation pump on the ceiling, there's a 13-by-20-foot viewing room and a closet-sized "executioners' room." From there, two prison employees, peering through a cracked, one-way mirror into the death room, pump a cocktail of lethal drugs into condemned inmates' veins.

The entire area, which also includes two "last night" cells, is so small that it's difficult for people to move around, prison officials say.

If the death chamber is replaced, it won't be the first time. Two and possibly three other locations at Nevada State Prison were used previously for executions by lethal gas or injection.

The current death chamber was first used in 1950 when James Williams was executed for killing a co-worker in Elko. Jesse Bishop, convicted of murder in a Las Vegas casino robbery, was the last person to be executed by lethal gas, in 1979. Since then, all executions have been by lethal injection.

Bishop and seven other condemned men who followed him were "table jumpers," guard parlance for inmates who didn't resist as they were led to the death chamber and strapped into a chair or onto the gurney that's now used.

Bridges' execution was the most bizarre in recent years. Wearing his brown, double-breasted Pierre Cardin suit and shiny, new black shoes, he appeared calm at first, but then broke down, sobbing and yelling, "You want to kill me like a dog."

Had he said he wanted to appeal, even at the last minute, the execution would have been called off.


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