Sunday, February 14, 2010

Natural Death at Age 94, for Nation's Oldest Death Row Inmate

Associated Press reporter Bob Christie has this account  of the death of Leroy Nash, of natural casues on Arizona's Death Row.  I caught the story at the Salt Lake City Tribune website, because Nash was a Utahn, and it was news in Utah.  The picture is from an old file photo of an arrest in 1947 for the shooting of a Conneticut police officer.  The following is an excerpt from Bob Christie's story: 

"Viva Leroy Nash died late Friday [he was 94] at the state's prison complex in Florence, said an Arizona Department of Corrections spokesman.  Nash was still officially on death row, but spokesman Barrett Marson said Sunday he did not know if Nash died in his cell or in a medical facility at the prison.  Nash had been imprisoned almost continuously since he was 15, said one of his appellate attorneys, Thomas Phalen. In many ways, Nash was a throwback to the Old West, using words like 'bushwhacked' in conversation that had long been lost from everyday use.  'He was born in 1915 and he was sent to prison in 1930,' Phalen said. 'Think about it -- he had 15 years of life in southern Utah, at a time when Utah and Arizona was the wild, wild West -- and he went to prison in 1930, and he remained in prison for the next 80 years, more or less.'
Nash had suffered a series of heart attacks, the most recent early this month. His jailers recently removed him from the death row cell block on their own initiative because he was so mentally unfit, Phalen said.   At the time of Nash's death, state prosecutors were appealing a federal appeals court ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court that concluded he might not be competent [to participate in his death row appellate process.]Phalen said his research shows that Nash grew up in southern Utah and was sent to the federal prison in Leavenworth, Kan., in 1930 for an armed robbery.

He spent 25 years in prison for shooting a Connecticut police officer in 1947. In 1977, Nash was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences for a robbery and murder in Salt Lake City but escaped from a prison work crew in October 1982.  Three weeks later, on Nov. 3, 1982, Nash went into a coin shop in Phoenix and demanded money from employee Greggory West.   Nash shot West three times, killing him. Another employee was in the line of fire but was not hit, according to the corrections department. As Nash ran away, a nearby shop owner pointed a gun at him and told him to stop. Nash grabbed the weapon and the two men struggled over it until police arrived and arrested him.   He was convicted of first-degree murder, armed robbery, aggravated assault and theft, and sentenced to death in 1983."
Defense attorney, Phalen is quoted at the conclusion of the article as saying his heart goes out to Nash's victims, but that he celebrated the fact that Nash, an "old Cowboy," was not killed by the state of Arizona.
The account of Nash's death reminds me that Dahlia Lithwick reviewed David Dow's book the Autobiography of an Execution in the Sunday New York Times.  I linked to Terry Gross' Fresh Air interview of Dow, here on Bad Lawyer within the last week.  As always, Dahlia Lithwick brings her own special insight to the death penalty debate.

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