By Christopher Zoukis
After 10 years on Nevada’s Death Row, Scott Dozier has had enough.
Sentenced to die for the 2002 murder of Jeremiah Miller, a 22-year-old whose decapitated, mutilated body was found in an apartment dumpster in Las Vegas, Dozier had abandoned his legal appeals, asked a judge to set an execution date, and made clear he would rather be put to death than go on living in prison.
During his trial, Dozier’s defense team told a different story. They claimed Miller had asked Dozier to let him use Dozier’s room to prepare methamphetamines, and one day Dozier returned there to find Miller shot dead. To conceal the drug-making operation, Dozier said, he had removed Miller’s body, and discarded it in the dumpster.
Prosecutors contended Miller was a meth dealer who was looking for Dozier’s help in moving into meth production, and Dozier had agreed to help, then killed Miller and stole funds Miller had raised to buy ephedrine, a key material.
While Dozier was awaiting trial for Miller’s murder, an informant led police in Arizona to the buried corpse of 26-year-old Jasen Greene, and accused Dozier of murdering him. Before receiving the death sentence for Miller’s murder, Dozier was convicted in Phoenix of killing Greene — a charge which Dozier still denies — and drew a 22-year sentence.
Dozier’s execution – which would be the first in Nevada since 2006 – was scheduled for Nov. 14 last year, but was postponed when his lawyers challenged the new three-drug execution protocol developed by a team led by Nevada’s former chief medical officer. The protocol begins with an injection of the sedative diazepam (Valium), followed by the synthetic opioid fentanyl.
Even though those first two drugs, if working properly, should be enough to end the condemned inmate’s breathing, the state also calls for adding a third drug, cisatracurium, a paralytic to stop the inmate’s diaphragm from functioning. Opponents of the protocol argue that if the first two drugs work too slowly, paralyzing the diaphragm could lead to an excruciating suffocation, even as the drug’s paralytic effects might mask that distress to onlookers. Dozier’s lawyers described the new protocol as “less humane than putting down a pet.”
Arguing that the execution should proceed as scheduled, Nevada’s attorney general responded that fentanyl is a widely-used surgical painkiller. He also noted Dozier says he remains intent on being executed and has not personally objected to the new drug protocol.
At the same time, however, the inmate has not ordered the federal public defenders on his legal team to stop challenging the legality of the new execution method, which so far has not been adopted by any of the 30 other states where capital punishment is authorized. The question of the new execution protocol’s constitutionality is now being considered by Nevada’s Supreme Court.
On Jan. 23, Dozier’s lawyers told the court the untested proposed protocol would make the risk of a “botched execution” a “high probability” and could produce unconstitutional pain and suffering. They noted none of the three drugs Nevada plans to use has been approved for injection by any other state. The Nevada Supreme Court hasn’t indicated whether it will hold oral arguments, and there is no timetable set for its decision.
Christopher Zoukis is the author of Federal Prison Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Surviving the Federal Bureau of Prisons, College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Co., 2014) and Prison Education Guide (Prison Legal News Publishing, 2016). He can be found online at ChristopherZoukis.com and PrisonerResource.com.