In a state with a per capita death penalty rate that ranks fourth in the country, inmates on Nevada’s Death Row can always call on their friend Michael Pescetta.
“Pescetta, an assistant federal public defender in Las Vegas who specializes in capital punishment cases, is often a final resort for inmates who have exhausted their options at the state level to appeal a death penalty conviction,” the Las Vegas Sun reported.
He has provided legal representation for dozens of defendants facing Nevada’s often-imposed yet seldom-used death penalty. “Today, his office represents more than half of the 83 men sitting on Death Row,” according to the Sun.
In a recent interview, Pescetta spoke with the Sun about Richard Moran, who was executed in 1996. He was a client who committed multiple murders while under the influence of alcohol and drugs. Pescetta seemed surprised how this case went very quickly through the system.
Jesse Bishop was the first volunteer executed in Nevada in 1979. Pescetta told the Sun, “He committed offenses in 1977, and was executed less than two years from the date of his offense.
According to Pescetta, 11 defendants “volunteered” to die. These people “gave up any further appeals and asked to be executed.”
When pressed to explain why a defendant volunteers to be executed, Pescetta told the Sun, “People often start out suicidal. They ask the police to shoot them. It’s like a slow version of suicide by cop.” Furthermore, he believes “most people on Death Row have mental health issues.”
After botched executions in three other states, Nevada’s officials are now scrambling to complete a mandatory legislative audit of the death penalty by Jan. 31, 2015.
No one has been executed in Nevada since 2006. When asked to explain why, he told the Sun “Botched executions in Ohio, Oklahoma and Arizona in recent months could lead to more scrutiny about the process locally.”
The Sun reported three drugs, “sodium thiopental, which is an anesthetic, pancuronium bromide, which is paralytic, and potassium chloride, which is what stops the heart,” have raised concern about their use.
Pescetta told the Sun, “All of those drugs, if the state has them at the time, have a shelf life that we would be past now. And, as I understand, the execution protocol in effect at the time was that the state got the drugs for the execution when the execution was pending. They did not keep those drugs on hand.”
“The ratio of Death Row inmates to lawyers is significantly high. We have such a small bar compared to bigger states. There’s less legal talent available to do criminal work”
In the recent executions in Arizona, Ohio and Oklahoma, sodium thiopental was not available. According to Pescetta, “they have been using different drugs, sometimes one drug, sometimes two drugs.” He believes, “They’re essentially experimenting.”
“The willingness of manufacturers and suppliers to supply them is very different now than it used to be,” Pescetta said. There are not many drugs available today.
“How prepared is the state to execute someone again?” the Sun reporter asked. “Pescetta said it is unknown what kind of execution protocol the Nevada Department of Corrections would use if an execution were scheduled.”
However, hesaid, “The old protocol specified these three drugs had traditionally been used.”
When asked, “Where do most death penalty cases originate in Nevada? Is it significant that the state’s per capita ratio is relatively high compared with other places?” Pescetta said, “No other county in the state has as many death penalty cases as Clark County. There probably aren’t more than three or four in the entire rest of the state.”
He told the Sun, “The ratio of Death Row inmates to lawyers is significantly high. We have such a small bar compared to bigger states. There’s less legal talent available to do criminal work. ”
Nevada’s Death Row is located at Ely State Prison, a maximum-security facility where inmates waiting to be executed live in single cells. “Contact with other inmates is limited. Most people in there spend 23 hours a day in a cell,” Pescetta said. “This is not like being out in the yard with other inmates.”