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Judge Won’t Stay Death Penalty Case Based on Expense

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(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

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Las Vegas CBS KXNT – A district court judge turned down a request from a local attorney on Thursday to take the death penalty off the table in a murder case until the legislature conducts a financial review of capital punishment.

Attorney Anthony Sgro argued that lawmakers are likely to begin the repeal process on Nevada’s death penalty in 2015, after a state-ordered audit of capital prosecutions is delivered.

Some people familiar with similar audits conducted by other states believe the report will reveal capital pubishment to be so expensive that lawmakers will decide the money would be better spent on other things.

“What happens between now and 2015?” Sgro asked in court. “We’re forced to go to trial, and he gets convicted, and then the death penalty? Then what?”

The answer — now that Sgro has raised the argument — is that defendant David Burns, who is charged wiht murder, would have grounds to appeal a death sentence if Nevada’s law is changed. That would mean a second trial, and twice the expense, Sgro pointed out.

Sgro says the 2013 legislature has already set the stage by refusing on financial grounds to fund a new death chamber. Nevada closed its aging state prison, where executions were performed. Sgro told the judge the state now has no place to carry out a death sentence, calling it a “de facto moratorium.”

But Judge Jerome Tao denied the motion, saying he can’t make rulings based on what might happen in the future.

“There are all kinds of statutes that … need to be changed, that are probably going to be changed,” Tao said. “But unfortunately, until the legislature changes them, it’s the law as it is.”

Sgro will make the argument a total of four times, in four unrelated murder cases. He’s not waiting until the defendants end up on death row to appeal. He says he’ll ask the supreme court to review the decisions in all four stay requests as soon as the fourth arguement is made.

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