Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Nevada Lawmakers Want To End Death Penalty

Nevada Department of Corrections via AP

This Nov. 10, 2016 photo released by the Nevada Department of Corrections shows the newly completed execution chamber at Ely State Prison in Ely, Nev. Nevada hasn't carried out an execution since 2006, and two state lawmakers have proposed abolishing capital punishment altogether.

The death penalty. Capital punishment.

It’s a hot-button issue and it’s going to come up during the 2017 Legislature.

Eighty-one men sit on Death Row in Nevada, and a new chamber was just built at Ely State Prison. But the last execution took place more than a decade ago.

State Senator Tick Segerblom wants to end the practice all together. He is proposing a bill with Assemblyman James Ohrenschall that would make the state’s maximum punishment life in prison without parole.

“I don’t think a society has the right to decide who is going to live or die,” Segerblom said.

Besides the moral argument against the death penalty, Segerblom said money is also a factor. He said the state spends millions of dollars on death penalty cases, but no one is executed.

"It's really just a feel-good issue for people to say, 'We're going to kill someone because they did something bad,' but at the end of the day, we never do kill the person and we spend millions of dollars trying to get to the point where we could kill them, but it never happens."

Besides the state and federal appeals that take up both time and money, the drugs to execute people are not available. 

Tod Story with the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada agreed that the money spent on death penalty cases is far more than putting a prisoner away for life.

A 2014  state audit of the cost of death row concluded that death penalty cases costs $532,000 more than cases where life in prison is sought.

Story said the argument against the death penalty goes beyond just the cost. He believes it is fundamentally about the society we want to be.

"I think the fundamental question comes down to whether we as a government, we as a people, we as a society, can take away someone's life," he said.

Supporters of the death penalty have said the penalty is a deterrent, arguing that people won't do something if they know they could face the death penalty for it.

For instance, Illinois is one of 18 states that has repealed its death penalty and the murder rate in Chicago has skyrocketed recently.

Both Story and Segerblom dismiss the argument that having a death penalty does anything to stop crime.

"There is no correlation between whether you have the death penalty, you don't have the death penalty as far as violent crime," Segerblom said.

"We still have the death penalty here in Nevada and we had if not the highest, but one of the highest, murder rates here in Las Vegas last year," Story said. "We know that it is not a deterrent."

Segerblom is purposing the legislation when the Legislature meets in February, but he is not entirely sure it will pass or that Gov. Brian Sandoval will sign it.

"I had a bill a couple of sessions ago just to ask to study the death penalty and the governor vetoed it," he said.

Story remains optimistic that  Sandoval will sign it. 

"I think anything is possible," he said. "I think the governor has indicated his willingness to entertain the idea."

Tick Segerblom, Nevada State Senator; Tod Story, executive director, ACLU of Nevada

Stay Connected
Kristy Totten is a producer at KNPR's State of Nevada. Previously she was a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly, and has covered technology, education and economic development for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. She's a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism.