LAS VEGAS (AP) — A convicted killer who is fighting a possible June execution date that would make him the first person put to death in Nevada in 15 years is calling for the state to consider the firing squad as an option, a rare method in the United States.
Attorneys for Zane Michael Floyd say he does not want to die and are challenging the state plan to use a proposed three-drug lethal injection, which led to court challenges that twice delayed the execution of another convicted killer who later took his own life in prison.
“Gunshots to the brain stem would be ‘the most humane way'” to carry out an execution. – Brad Levenson, a federal public defender
“This is not a delaying tactic,” Brad Levenson, a federal public defender representing Floyd, said Monday.
But a challenge of the state execution protocol requires the defense to provide an alternative method, and Levenson said gunshots to the brain stem would be “the most humane way.”
“Execution by firing squad … causes a faster and less painful death than lethal injection,” the attorneys said in a court filing Friday.
Nevada once allowed firing squads, but state law now requires the use of lethal injection in sentences of capital punishment.
Three U.S. states — Mississippi, Oklahoma and Utah — and the U.S. military allow capital punishment by gunfire. The last time that method was used in the United States was in Utah in 2010.
Floyd’s attorneys are asking a federal judge in Las Vegas to stop Floyd from being put to death until prison officials “devise a new procedure or procedures to carry out a lawful execution.”
Levenson said he and attorney David Anthony are fighting multiple issues in state and federal courts, with the possibility that Floyd’s death could be set for the week of June 7. Prosecutors will seek an execution warrant at a state court hearing next month.
The 45-year-old was convicted in 2000 of killing four people with a shotgun in a Las Vegas supermarket in 1999 and badly wounding a fifth person.
Floyd appeared to exhaust his federal appeals last November, and the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear his case. Floyd wants a chance to seek clemency at a June 22 meeting of the Nevada State Pardons Board, Levenson said.
Floyd’s attorneys argue that a three-drug injection combination the state wants to use — the sedative diazepam, the powerful synthetic painkiller fentanyl and a paralytic, cisatracurium — would amount to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of his constitutional rights.
Anthony made similar arguments on behalf of Scott Raymond Dozier before Nevada’s last scheduled execution was called off in 2017 and 2018. Dozier killed himself in prison in January 2019.
A judge blocked the first date after deciding that use of the paralytic might cause painful suffocation while Dozier was aware but unable to move.
Pharmaceutical companies that made the three drugs stopped the second date with arguments against using their products in an execution, an issue several states are facing.
Floyd would be the first person executed in Nevada since 2006, when Daryl Mack asked to be put to death for his conviction in a 1988 rape and murder in Reno.
Nevada has 72 men awaiting execution, a state Department of Corrections spokeswoman said.
No Clean Hands in a Dirty Business: Firing Squads and the Euphemism of “Evolving Standards of Decency”
Alexander Vey, Vanderbilt Law Review, 2019
“If we, as a society, cannot stomach the splatter from an execution carried out by firing squad, then we shouldn’t be carrying out executions at all.”
Judge Kozinski of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals laid down this challenge to reform the “inherently flawed” use of lethal injection in carrying out the death penalty.
Justice Sotomayor recently voiced similar concerns, stating, “[W]e deserve to know the price of our collective comfort before we blindly allow a State to make condemned inmates pay it in our names.”
These judges’ reasoning should underlie any discussion of the death penalty: can we, as a society, handle the reality of the state ending a life on our behalf? The case that prompted Judge Kozinski’s recommendation, Wood v. Ryan, illustrates challenges many states now face to their lethal injection protocols and the risk of botched executions.
Joseph Wood was convicted in Arizona of killing his ex-girlfriend and her father in 1989 and sentenced to death.5 In 2014, the Arizona Attorney General indicated Wood would be executed using two drugs-midazolam and hydromorphone.
Until recently, however, most states used the same three-drug protocol: sodium thiopental, then pancuronium bromide, and finally potassium chloride.
But Arizona could not acquire its typical drugs.8 Wood was to be the first inmate in Arizona put to death using the midazolam-hydromorphone combination.9 Other states had used similar protocols in executions, ending in complications and botched executions … Read more.