Edward Wilson, who has served longer on Nevada's death row than any other inmate, lost another attempt Thursday to persuade the Nevada Supreme Court to lift that sentence.
Wilson was one of four men convicted of the June 1979 murder of Reno police undercover detective James Hoff. The murder happened during a drug deal in which Wilson and John Olausen were supposed to sell Hoff 10 ounces of cocaine. Hoff didn't know that the two had planned all along to kill him and take the $1,600 in cash.
Wilson was 20 at the time.
Along with David Lani and Fred Stites, they stabbed Hoff repeatedly before stuffing him in the trunk of a car, then burying his body in a Verdi drainage ditch.
Although Wilson pleaded guilty to the murder, kidnapping and robbery, a three-judge panel sentenced him to death.
He has been fighting the conviction and death sentence since he arrived on death row in late 1979.
This latest petition for a writ of habeas corpus challenges the aggravating circumstances used to qualify Wilson for the death penalty. He argues that because he pleaded guilty to felony murder, the state can't use the same underlying felonies - specifically, his plea to premeditated murder as well as felony murder, robbery and kidnapping - as aggravating circumstances.
The high court rejected the argument, saying the aggravating circumstances in Wilson's case are not invalid.
"We therefore hold that the use of a felony aggravator is not precluded where the defendant has pleaded guilty to first-degree murder based on premeditation and felony murder," the opinion states.
Olausen was also sentenced to death but that has since been converted to life without possible parole, the sentences received by Lani and Stites.
Wilson has now been on death row for more than 31 years - nearly two-thirds of his life.