Lawyers in murder cases ask judge to kill Nevada death penalty
LAS VEGAS — Lawyers defending a man in three murder cases want a judge to declare capital punishment unconstitutional in Nevada after the two most powerful Democrats in the state Legislature, who also work as prosecutors, killed measures that aimed to repeal it.
A court filing on behalf of 27-year-old defendant Alonso Perez argues that because Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro and Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson are deputy Clark County district attorneys, they made sure the death penalty repeal bills didn’t get a hearing.
Perez’s assigned lawyers, led by JoNell Thomas, alleged improper interference in the lawmaking process by the two career prosecutors who serve as elected, part-time legislators.
Cannizzaro declined Tuesday to comment. Frierson didn’t immediately respond Monday and Tuesday to messages about the court filing in one of three capital murder cases pending against Perez.
Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson also didn’t respond to claims that as the employer of Cannizzaro and Frierson, he has “direct authority over the legislative leadership” and “indirect authority over his subordinates.”
Perez’s lawyers want the judge to order Wolfson to turn over copies of any emails, memos and telephone records between supervisory prosecutors and prosecutors serving in the Legislature.
They say they expect the records to show that Cannizzaro and Frierson were told to deny hearings and votes concerning capital punishment.
The 22-page court filing, dated April 25, asserts “the death penalty in Nevada is invalid because the legislative process … has been compromised due to prosecutorial interference and dominance in Nevada’s Legislature.”
Assemblyman Ozzie Fumo and state Sen. James Ohrenschall, both Democrats, sponsored the bills that would have eliminated the death penalty. Fumo declined to comment about the lawsuit. Ohrenschall did not immediately respond to messages.
Gov. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, has said he opposes the death penalty except in extreme circumstances. His spokeswoman, Helen Kalla, declined to comment about the new death penalty challenge.
Nevada lawmakers re-established capital punishment in the state in 1977 and directed that executions should be by lethal injection. Nevada currently has 77 inmates on death row. The most recent execution was in 2006.
The state recently moved to the forefront of the death penalty debate when the lethal injection of a twice-convicted murderer who said he wanted to die was called off twice — in late 2017 due to challenges of a three-drug combination never before used in the U.S., and in July 2018 after drug companies sued to block their products from being used. The inmate at the center of those cases, Scott Raymond Dozier, later killed himself in prison.
Perez faces separate murder trials next year in slayings in August 2015. The court filing on his behalf raises multiple objections to the death penalty in Nevada, including the cost compared with life in prison, concerns about racial disparity, and an expansion since 1977 in the list of aggravating circumstances that allow prosecutors to ask juries to impose death.
Thomas is due to make arguments in the case on May 15 before Clark County District Court Judge Douglas Herndon.