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Ailing death row inmate wants to join challenge of execution plan

Updated July 23, 2021 - 6:04 pm

Another condemned prisoner wants to join the lawsuit against Nevada prison officials over their choice to use a new lethal injection cocktail in their next execution.

Joseph Weldon Smith, 81, asked in court documents to be added to the case filed on behalf of fellow inmate Zane Floyd.

Attorneys discussed the matter at a federal court hearing Friday, but U.S. District Judge Richard Boulware did not make an immediate decision.

Nevada has not executed anyone on death row since 2006. But in March, District Attorney Steve Wolfson announced that he would seek a warrant for Floyd’s execution.

Floyd, 45, was sentenced to death for fatally shooting four people more than two decades ago in an Albertsons on West Sahara Avenue.

His attorneys say an untested combination of drugs planned for his lethal injection would amount to cruel and unusual punishment.

Boulware issued a stay of execution for Floyd on June 28.

His ruling prevents the state from moving forward with the execution before the week of Oct. 18. Prosecutors had sought to have Floyd killed at the end of July.

Floyd’s attorneys also asked in court papers that the judge issue an injunction for Smith.

Smith received two death sentences in Clark County in 1992 for strangling his two stepdaughters and beating them with a hammer, court records show. He also is serving life in prison without parole for killing his wife and was convicted of attacking his landlord.

He is incarcerated at a state medical facility in Carson City and is being treated for kidney failure with dialysis, according to a 66-page court document filed Thursday.

“Defendant’s lethal injection protocol presents additional risks of harm and will cause even more severe pain and suffering upon him,” attorneys argued. “It is likely that intravenous access for Mr. Smith will be extremely difficult, quite painful, and perhaps even impossible.”

The prison system’s plan details the sequence and dosage for an injection of the painkillers fentanyl or alfentanil, “depending on availability;” ketamine, an anesthetic; cisatracurium, a paralytic; and heart-stopping potassium chloride or potassium acetate, “depending on availability.”

No state has used ketamine or the fentanyl substitute that Nevada listed, according to court records.

Last month, lawyers for the makers of ketamine sent a cease-and-desist letter to Attorney General Aaron Ford, whose office represents the prison system, demanding that the state return 50 vials of the drug.

Prosecutors have said Floyd’s lawyers did not cite any medical or scientific evidence showing that the proposed drugs would result in a painful execution.

They are asking District Judge Michael Villani to reschedule Floyd’s execution for the last week of October due to the expiration date on some of the drugs.

Contact Briana Erickson at berickson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5244. Follow @ByBrianaE on Twitter. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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