Judge: Nevada can’t yet consider death sentence commutations

Dec 19, 2022, 2:55 AM | Updated: 7:57 pm
FILE - Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak speaks during a rally in North Las Vegas, Nev., on Nov. 1, 2022. N...

FILE - Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak speaks during a rally in North Las Vegas, Nev., on Nov. 1, 2022. Nevada’s pardons board will not be able to consider a last-minute request from outgoing Gov. Sisolak to commute all 57 of the state’s death sentences, a judge ordered Monday, Dec. 19, 2022. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

(AP Photo/John Locher, File)

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Nevada’s pardons board will not be able to consider a last-minute request from outgoing Gov. Steve Sisolak to commute the sentences of all 57 of the state’s death row prisoners, a judge ordered Monday evening.

The state Board of Pardons was set to vote on the request Tuesday morning, potentially delivering the second major victory in a week for advocates who have called for the abolition of capital punishment after Oregon Gov. Kate Brown used her executive clemency powers last Wednesday to commute the state’s 17 death sentences.

Delivering his ruling from the bench, Carson City District Court Judge James Wilson Jr. said Nevada’s pardons board, which includes the governor, has the authority to grant such commutations but failed to properly notify the families of victims before the meeting.

“I think that is required to show the capital murder victim fairness and respect for his or her dignity,” Wilson said. His order came in response to an emergency petition filed last week by Chris Hicks, the Republican district attorney in Reno, who criticized Sisolak’s request as “unjust and undemocratic.”

News of the judge’s decision brought some comfort to Kenneth Cherry Sr., 63, whose son was killed in 2013 when death row prisoner Ammar Harris opened fire on the Las Vegas Strip, causing a fiery crash that left Kenneth Cherry Jr. and two others, including cab driver Michael Boldon, dead.

“It’s impossible to move on knowing my son’s murderer is still alive,” Cherry Sr. said Monday evening from his home in Oakland. “It’s an unexplainable pain.”

And to rub salt in the wound, he said, he learned of Sisolak’s request from Boldon’s brother, who had read about it in the news.

“What they’re doing to us is plain wrong,” Cherry Sr. said. “There has not been one day that my family hasn’t suffered since my son was killed.”

The pardons board will still meet Tuesday as scheduled but won’t discuss the commutations.

A spokeswoman for the governor’s office declined to comment Monday evening on the judge’s order but said Sisolak will deliver remarks Tuesday at the meeting.

Sisolak confirmed last week that he wanted to clear the state’s death row before he leaves office in two weeks by reducing the sentences of all inmates awaiting execution to life in prison without parole. He had hoped to garner enough support from pardons board members at their final meeting together before Republican Gov.-elect Joe Lombardo, the sheriff in Las Vegas since 2015, is sworn in and takes his place on the board.

The eleventh-hour request came as shock both to criminal justice reform advocates in Nevada, who said they were suspicious of the governor’s timing, and to proponents of capital punishment, who accused Sisolak of executive overreach.

Last year, Democrats commanded majorities in both chambers of the statehouse and appeared to support abolishing the death penalty, but legislative efforts ultimately stalled after Sisolak voiced his opposition.

At the time, Democrats were anticipating crime would emerge as among the midterm election’s most potent partisan issues, but Sisolak denied to reporters that his reelection campaign figured into his decision to voice concerns about the bill.

Sisolak, a practicing Catholic whose daughter works as a public defender, said his views on capital punishment irrevocably changed after the mass shooting in Las Vegas in 2017.

Scott Coffee, a longtime public defender in Las Vegas who had supported the bill last year to abolish capital punishment, said Nevada’s death penalty system is beyond repair.

“It’s been a false promise to victims for too long,” he said. “To some extent, it’s lip service to tell them that there will be some kind of retribution for the death of their loved ones when the reality is that it just doesn’t happen.”

Nevada has not executed a prisoner since 2006, and all but one of the 12 people executed since 1977, when the state reinstated capital punishment, had waived their appeals.

___

Associated Press writer Sam Metz in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

substation...
Associated Press

Puyallup man accused in substation vandalism is released from custody

A federal judge issued the order for Matthew Greenwood, 32, after renewed efforts by his attorney to get Greenwood into a drug-treatment facility.
20 hours ago
FILE - The sun dial near the Legislative Building is shown under cloudy skies, March 10, 2022, at t...
Associated Press

Democrats in Washington state choose Conrad as new leader

The Washington State Democratic Party has chosen Shasti Conrad, the former leader of King County Democrats, as its new chair.
20 hours ago
Hinman Glacier...
Associated Press

Washington’s Hinman Glacier gone after thousands of years

The largest glacier between the high peaks of Mount Rainier and Glacier Peak has melted away after a long battle with global warming.
20 hours ago
Pierce County substation...
Associated Press

Man accused in holiday substation vandalism released from custody

A man charged with vandalizing electrical substations over the holidays to cover a burglary was released from federal custody.
20 hours ago
Associated Press

Ex-UCLA lecturer accused of threats ruled mentally unfit

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A former lecturer at the University of California, Los Angeles accused of threatening students and staff was found mentally unfit to stand trial last week by a federal judge in Denver. U.S. District Court Judge Raymond P. Moore wrote in a Jan. 27 court filing that lawyers for Matthew Harris filed […]
20 hours ago
This photo provided by Peter Phung shows Phung, left, and Ming Wei Ma at the American Chinese Sprin...
Associated Press

Ballroom shooting victims planned for night of fun, dancing

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Those killed by a gunman who opened fire at a Los Angeles-area dance hall are being remembered by friends and family for the zest for life that brought them out that night to celebrate the Lunar New Year. Eleven people were killed when a gunman opened fire on Saturday night at […]
20 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.
SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Judge: Nevada can’t yet consider death sentence commutations