The Marshall Project

The Volunteer

More than a year ago, Nevada death row prisoner Scott Dozier gave up his legal appeals and asked to be executed. He’s still waiting.

Feature | Filed 6:00 a.m. 01.18.2017
This story was produced in collaboration with Mother Jones

On the day he had been scheduled to die, Scott Dozier arrived at the visiting room inside Ely State Prison looking edgy and exhausted. He’d been thwarted. For more than a year, he had worked to ensure his own execution, waiving his legal appeals and asking a Las Vegas judge to set a date. But with just days to go, the judge had issued a stay amid questions about the drugs Nevada planned to inject into him.

Dozier had spent a decade on death row for the murder of Jeremiah Miller, whose decapitated, partially delimbed torso was found in a Las Vegas dumpster. Now 47, he accepted the punishment, feeling that death would be better than a life spent in prison. ”I don’t want to die,” he told me. “I just would rather be dead than do this.”

Of the more than 1,400 men and women who have been executed in the U.S. in the last four decades, roughly one in 10 have abandoned their appeals. In the legal community, they’re known as “volunteers.” But few volunteers have set off as much legal and political upheaval as Dozier. Like many death penalty states, Nevada hasn’t actually executed anyone in years. Dozier’s request spurred a frenzy of preparations involving state and federal lawyers, judges, political leaders and prison officials, who had to rev up an execution apparatus that had been dormant for a decade.

That a man deemed unfit to live in society — indeed, to live at all — could wield such influence is a testament to our country’s conflicted views on the death penalty. We have a president who has extolled capital punishment in tweets and full-page newspaper ads, while exonerations have fueled unease about the system’s flaws. Death sentences have plummeted, and as appeals drag on for years, many condemned prisoners die of old age before they can be executed. It can seem as though we like the idea of the ultimate punishment just so long as we don’t have to kill anyone.

And then comes Scott Dozier, calling our bluff.

A few months ago, after I wrote on the state’s plan to kill him with the opioid fentanyl, Dozier called me. He was on the verge of getting what he’d asked for; his execution date was only weeks away. He was planning a series of final interviews, while also vacillating over whether there would be any point to doing them. “The public is ambivalent and apathetic, and maybe there will be 10

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