[Deathpenalty]death penalty news-----TEXAS, USA, ALA., ARIZ.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sat Jun 25 22:57:48 CDT 2005
Jones eligible for parole in 40 years
Anzel Jones, a 27-year-old man convicted of a capital murder in the 1995
slaying of a Paris woman, is 1 of 28 people whose sentences were commuted
Wednesday from death to life in prison.
Jones is now eligible for parole in 40 years.
More than three months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that juveniles
cannot be executed, Gov. Rick Perry commuted the sentences of Jones and 27
other inmates who were under 18 when they committed capital murder.
Jones was 17 when Sherry Kay Jones, 49, was killed. Prosecutors said Anzel
Jones sexually assaulted the murder victims mother before setting their
house on fire. Edith Jones, 76, survived the attack and her testimony at
the trial - moved to Sherman because of news coverage in Paris - helped
convict him on May 20, 1996, of capital murder.
State District Judge Webb Biard of Paris sentenced Anzel Jones on June 4,
1996, to die by lethal injection. He was scheduled to be put to death last
year, but got a stay of execution on Feb. 25, 2004, because of his age at
the time of the attacks.
The Supreme Court forced the commutations with its March ruling that
executing juveniles violates the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual
punishment. Texas was one of 18 states that allowed the practice.
Perry's order starts the process of moving the inmates off death row.
"While these individuals were convicted by juries of brutal murders and
sentenced to die for their heinous crimes, I have no choice but to commute
these sentences to life in prison as a result of the Supreme Court
ruling," Perry said.
Perry spokesman Robert Black said that after the court ruled, the state
still had to follow legal procedures to commute the sentences.
Before moving the inmates, each will undergo classification at a
diagnostic unit, probably near Huntsville, where their education,
vocational skills and family and medical background will factor into where
they will be assigned.
While many will be assimilated into the prison system's general
population, inmates who have had gang affiliations or continue to have
gang ties could remain in more restrictive administrative segregation,
which is similar to the conditions they experienced on death row at the
Polunsky Unit outside Livingston.
For others, it will be their first exposure to prison work programs,
schooling and jobs within a prison unit. Unlike the restrictive life on
death row, where inmates are kept alone in cells 23 hours a day, the
commuted prisoners could be eligible to have cellmates or live in dorms.
"There are a number of situations they'll now be able to experience that
they just couldn't when they were at the Polunsky Unit," said Michelle
Lyons, a Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokeswoman in Huntsville.
"Among them will be access to television, which is among the most common
complaints we get from our death row inmates, that they do not have
Current Texas sentencing laws give juries in capital murder cases the
choice of sentencing defendants to execution by lethal injection or life
in prison with the possibility of parole after 40 years.
Last week, Perry signed into law a change that will remove the possibility
of parole in life sentences, but the change won't apply to crimes
committed before Sept. 1.
"This new law will improve our criminal justice system because it gives
jurors a new option to protect the public with the certainty a convicted
killer will never roam our streets again," Perry said.
(source: Paris News)
The Jury's Out----How 12 Reasonable People Got Hung Up on Reasonable Doubt
I'd read about the "CSI effect," of course -- how the trendy TV show about
a crack team of crime scene investigators has juries from coast to coast
expecting fancy forensic evidence that will seal a defendant's guilt or
innocence. But I was still surprised when it reared its troublesome head
in our jury room last week.
I mean, it's one thing to hear the jury foreman in the Robert Blake trial
declare that the has-been actor had been found not guilty of shooting and
killing his wife because there was "no GSR" (that's gun shot residue, for
you non-CSI fans) on his hands to nail him beyond a reasonable doubt. The
guy was up on a murder charge, after all. But the forensic frenzy
materialized in our not exactly earth-shattering firearm and drug
possession case here in the District's federal court, too.
"I don't understand why we don't have more evidence," complained one of my
fellow jurors. "Why didn't they try to get fingerprints from the car? And
off the keys?"
"Why didn't they try to get some DNA, or hair or something, off the
jacket?" demanded another.
"Right," chimed in several other voices. "That would make so much
It sure would. It would, above all, eliminate the need to figure out
whether the prosecution had proven its case "beyond a reasonable doubt."
And that, I have to say, would have been a relief to us all, because if
there was one thing my fellow jurors and I wrestled with, it was the
question of what constitutes that subjective, shape-shifting notion. What,
we pondered and worried, is reasonable doubt?
In this, I guess we weren't so different from the many others who
participate in the World of Jury Duty, 2005. By demanding proof positive
of a defendant's wrongdoing, lots of jurors these days seem to be reaching
well beyond doubt of any kind and grasping for the brass ring of
certainty. It seems they aren't looking to get past reasonable doubt;
they're looking for no doubt.
The last time I sat on a criminal jury was 1987. That was in the days
before "Law and Order" and its many offspring, and way before the "CSI"
craze. It was before O.J. and the infamous glove. It was before the
much-publicized DNA exonerations of death row inmates in the last several
years. Back then, I don't remember my jury having so much doubt about what
constituted "proof beyond a reasonable doubt" of the defendant's guilt. A
couple of eyewitnesses pretty much did the trick, as I recall. There
wasn't any technical evidence at all. No fingerprints, nothing. And we
didn't expect any.
But nowadays, there are numerous reports of jurors going wild, researching
cases on the Internet and visiting crime scenes in an effort to determine
the truth. Aware of advances in science and technology -- and not just
from TV shows, as one of our jurors chastised the prosecutor for implying
-- they anticipate forensic evidence of the most minute, exotic, even
fantastic sort: One member of my jury thought it was possible to lift
multiple fingerprints off a given object and determine which set was the
freshest. He seemed to hold it against the prosecution -- which has the
burden of proof in every case -- for not providing such information. And
this was after the prosecutor had gone to great lengths to call a witness
who described how hard it is to lift usable prints and explained why the
government had no fingerprint evidence of any kind to offer.
These expectations "may be stretching the standard [of reasonable doubt]
to perhaps beyond all doubt," says Mickey Sherman, a criminal defense
lawyer in Greenwich, Conn. For Sherman -- who unsuccessfully defended
Kennedy relative Michael Skakel in his 2002 trial for the murder 30 years
ago of Greenwich teenager Martha Moxley -- this is not exactly a negative
development. Defense lawyers "prey on it," he said, pushing the idea that
every case should include DNA and fingerprints and forensic tests of
That strategy certainly raises the demons of doubt. But are they
reasonable ? That's where my fellow jurors and I went round and round.
Think how often you hear that phrase -- beyond a reasonable doubt. It's so
familiar, a part of the national vocabulary. It's thrown around in novels
and movies and on TV. You take it for granted. Until you're on a jury and
you suddenly realize you're not quite sure just what it means. And no one
will quite tell you. Maybe it's deliberate -- one of those obfuscatory
things the legal profession is so fond of, jurisprudence being, in the
end, not a science but a flawed endeavor dependent upon human logic and
rationality. And emotion, no doubt. But when you're a juror, it certainly
My jury was, if I do say so, a panel of intelligent, eminently reasonable
adults. Eight whites, three blacks, one Asian American. Eight women, four
men. All professionals of one sort or another, including an accountant, an
economist, a paralegal and a couple of us media types. We were well
informed, thoughtful, respectful, bent on doing a good job on our case.
But when it came to defining reasonable doubt, a sticking point in our
deliberations, we, well, got stuck. "Juries have always struggled with the
concept of reasonable doubt," says Robb London, a former federal
prosecutor in Seattle and now editor of the Harvard Law Bulletin. (Whew,
that's a bit of a relief.)
We all thought we understood that it didn't mean no doubt, or even just a
little doubt. But then, how much? And doubt of what? It's taxing, too, to
have a guilt-determining standard termed in the negative. When you hear
something like what a juror in the Mississippi trial of Edgar Ray Killen
said last week -- "I think the reasonable doubt was not there that he
didn't have anything to do with it"-- you realize how mind-pretzeling the
notion can be.
We deadlocked at 8-4 for acquittal, splintering chiefly over an eyewitness
identification of the defendant that some thought too iffy. (Could that
police detective really have gotten a good enough look at the guy he
chased that night, in the dark, on the run?) Others thought any doubt
about that was outweighed by circumstantial evidence that pointed to the
defendant as the man who ran from police, dropping a jacket with a gun in
the pocket before heading into the woods. When it became clear no one was
going to budge, some in the majority undertook to challenge the minority
on their understanding of reasonable doubt.
So we reread the jury instructions the judge had given us. I should know
them by heart by now, but I only remember how vague they were. How long
and . . . legalistic. The instructions said that reasonable doubt was a
higher standard than the one in civil trials, where you only have to
believe that the evidence proves the charges are more likely true than
not. So all right, not just "probably guilty." But they said proof beyond
reasonable doubt doesn't mean scientific or mathematical certainty,
either. They said that reasonable doubt is a doubt based on reason. (Go
figure.) They said that if after careful, impartial consideration of all
the evidence, you were "firmly convinced" of the defendant's guilt, then
you should find him or her guilty. But they also said that if you had
doubt about any part of the evidence, you had to vote not guilty. I think.
And there was more, little of it illuminating.
We requested a further clarification from the judge. He instructed us to
read the instructions again.
Later, after we had declared ourselves at a stalemate and the judge
dismissed us as a hung jury, the attorneys from both sides met with us and
offered their own takes on reasonable doubt. It's often stated as doubt
based on reason as opposed to fancy, guesswork or conjecture, the
prosecutor said. Aha. That's a smidge better, but only a smidge. The
defense attorney offered an analogy I can't re-create, but the bottom line
was that it means the kind of doubt that would make you hesitate to take a
significant action in your own life. Well, okay, but still a little hard
to put your finger on.
So I polled a few other lawyers on the meaning of reasonable doubt."It's
like pornography," offered defense lawyer Sherman, only half-joking. "You
can't describe it, but you know it when you see it." Or, "beyond a
reasonable doubt means: My conscience is clear in voting to convict this
defendant despite the fact that there are some small, unanswered questions
or unknowns, and I'd be shocked and horrified to learn later that he was
really innocent," said Harvard's London.
That latter definition has the virtue of being in plain English, though
it's pretty broad and nebulous. And again, maybe that's the idea. Who
wants a definite, delimited paradigm to follow when you're determining a
person's fate? Jurors aren't stamped from cookie cutters; they're
individuals who need latitude for their opinions. And yet. . . . During
our deliberations, one juror kept pressing the rest of us to quantify our
degree of certainty or doubt regarding the defendant's guilt. "How sure
are you?" he'd ask. "51 %? 75 %? 99.8 %?" We mostly shouted him down,
dismissing his question as quixotic, if not lamebrained.
But when I talked to former federal prosecutor (now a George Washington
University law professor) Paul Butler midweek, guess what? He offered his
opinion that the CSI effect was simply reinforcing the very high standard
of reasonable doubt, "which most legal scholars put at above 95 %
certainty, probably 97 to 98 %." Now there's news we could have used!
Maybe it wouldn't have changed any votes, but it might have been
reassuring to us all to know at least what our certainty level should
approach. There's something about a number that can be comforting.
So, as someone who's done her duty, may I offer my 2 cents to the
legal/judicial community? Even if you can't quantify reasonable doubt
(that's the Supreme Court's call, and it hasn't done it), could you update
the definition a little? Trials are fascinating puzzles, but jurors
shouldn't have to rack their brains over obscure concepts that mean so
much. Put the instructions in terms the average non-lawyer, non-legal
scholar, non-philosopher lay person can understand.
It seems like the reasonable thing to do.
(source: Washington Post -- Zofia Smardz is an assistant editor of
Our Views----A tale of 2 juries
Juries are both the boon and the bane of the American court system.
Because they come from the community at large, and despite the attempts of
the competing lawyers to mold particular juries in a way most favorable to
their clients, a panel of jurors is more representative of the community
than the professionals who work in the judiciary or law enforcement.
That representativeness gives a group of jurors more moral authority than
the law alone.
Because few jurors have legal training, they sometimes get lost in a legal
thicket while trying to carry out their responsibilities. The result can
be extended deliberations and even hung juries, although the latter may
also result from the ambiguities of a particular case or faulty
presentations by the lawyers of one or both sides.
Birmingham has seen both sides of juries in 2 recent cases.
The jury in the Richard Scrushy fraud trial wasn't helped by initially
faulty instructions from U.S. District Judge Karon Bowdre or by the
complexity of the case it was dealing with, but a lack of knowledge about
legal proceedings appears to us behind much of the difficulty it has had
in its deliberations.
The judge even had to tell jurors that they didn't have to consider and
make decisions on the charges in the exact order they were listed, which
might have seemed self-evident to somebody experienced in trial
Fortunately, the Scrushy jury has now gotten a second chance to prove its
worth. Because 1 juror had to be excused for health reasons and the judge
chose to name a replacement from the alternates who had sat through the
trial, the jury must start over in deliberating the merits of the case.
Even though the 11 original jurors must now set aside everything they said
and decided about the case, they have undoubtedly learned something about
the legal system that will be carried over into the new deliberations and
will be conveyed to the new juror. Even if this reconstituted panel should
eventually reach an impasse - and we hope it doesn't - it should have a
smoother path to completing its responsibility.
The other recent jury of note is in the trial of Kerry Spencer for killing
three Birmingham police officers in 2004. The jury quickly and not
surprisingly decided that Spencer was guilty of murder in killing Officers
Carlos Owen, Harley Chisholm III and Charles Bennett. The evidence clearly
supports that verdict and would have supported it even if defense lawyers
had been permitted a more extensive effort to prove their claim that the
killings were done in self defense.
But then came the penalty phase of the trial. Unlike every other
conviction for which the judge, and the judge alone, decides the sentence,
a capital murder conviction requires the jury to recommend one of two
punishments: execution or life in prison without parole. The judge then
decides whether to accept the recommendation or impose the other sentence.
We are not convinced that putting the jury in the sentencing phase of a
trial is a good idea. Judges' experience in sentencing people should give
them a much better understanding than jurors could possibly gain in a few
days of jury duty of what is the appropriate sentence for any particular
crime, including murder. However, until the Alabama Legislature or the
U.S. Supreme Court decides otherwise, the jury recommendation remains part
of the process in capital cases.
After a longer than expected deliberation, the Spencer jury recommended
life without parole. That has outraged a good number of people.
Although many politicians and, in this case, police officers apparently
believe the public is overwhelmingly in favor of capital punishment, that
is not true.
Views on the death penalty range from the belief it should be imposed more
often to the belief it should never be imposed, with every shade of
opinion in between. There are even people who consider life without parole
a harsher sentence than death because of the restrictive way in which that
life would be lived.
This jury reflected the division of opinion that exists in this state and
the country on capital punishment. Spencer was convicted on four charges
of murder and the jury had to make separate recommendations on each one.
The most telling vote was on the charge Spencer committed multiple
murders. The jury voted 7-5 for life without parole, showing a fairly even
division on the issue of capital punishment.
Jefferson County Circuit Judge Tommy Nail has set Sept. 9 as the date he
will sentence Spencer. We hope he has procedures in place to set aside
until later the many communications headed his way trying to persuade him
to decide one way or the other. They have no place in his decision.
The jury is the best representation of informed public opinion about this
particular crime and defendant. While Nail may well decide other factors
are more compelling, the jury recommendation deserves full consideration.
For all their faults, juries are more boons than banes. They make our
courts among the fairest in the world.
(source: Birmingham Post-Herald)
One Final Con----Viva LeRoy Nash, the oldest condemned man in America,
plots his escape from the executioner
Deep in the iron bowels of Arizona's death row waits el tigre grandote.
The big tiger turns 90 this year. He is the oldest condemned man in
America, maybe the whole world. And like the wild beast he claims to
embody, Viva LeRoy Nash wants to roam free. He awaits his release by the
hand of God or the vengeance of man, whichever comes first, inside Cell
Nash has spent 65 years of his life in prison. Twice he has escaped,
making his most recent dash for freedom at age 67. That was in 1982, in
Utah. While on the lam, the lanky convict stole a car, robbed a gun
dealer, went to Phoenix and acquired a senior citizen's bus pass. Within 3
weeks, he killed a man - his 2nd murder - during a coin shop holdup out on
But Nash's final con, if he can pull it off, may go down as his greatest
caper of all. With his legal appeals creeping through the system for 23
years now, he hopes to cheat the state executioner by dying in his sleep,
maybe at 100, a gaunt old man at peace at last. Until then, living in
near-total lockdown, plagued by strokes, heart ailments and high blood
pressure, he's followed by the specter of death.
After I contacted him late last year, Nash began writing several letters a
week to me, some 20 pages long, always neatly printed in black ink,
railing against judges, prosecutors and prison guards. At first he played
the victim, describing himself as forlorn and friendless, as "one
soon-to-be-forgotten old man on the miserable Arizona death row." But
within a few months, frustrated that I was not buying his story, he lashed
out at me, too, and vowed to outlive all of his persecutors. "This old
bastard won't die," he wrote.
Do not pity this old man. I don't. He is a killer. No matter what Nash
says, the coin-shop clerk did not fire at him first. Neither the
eyewitness nor the bullets he fired execution-style into Gregory West, a
23-year-old newlywed, support his claim of self-defense.
There is an old saying that justice delayed is justice denied, and it has
merit. Nash knows it. On every morning that he rises from his bunk, he
maintains the upper hand in a national debate over whether society really
wants to execute someone his age. The U.S. Supreme Court recently banned
the execution of juveniles, and the mentally ill also are spared. What
about the elderly?
The Arizona Department of Corrections' death house is a low gray building
among a cluster of state correctional institutions an hour's drive east of
the Phoenix sprawl, on the same sort of sand and scrub that Nash knew as a
boy on the Utah frontier. The son of a devout Mormon mother who christened
him Viva after a Spanish ancestor and a father who routinely belt-whipped
him, he was in trouble by age 7 for stealing bicycle parts and potato
chips. While still a teenager, Nash was sent off to Leavenworth prison in
Kansas, where he learned bad-guy vocational skills from the best: older
As a free man again briefly, he was married in Salt Lake City, fathered a
son and worked as a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman and a mechanic.
But the upright life was fleeting. "Otherwise, my whole life has been
wasted," Nash tells me during a phone interview.
Nash held up a dance hall. He robbed a gem store. He killed a man,
received a life sentence and was sent to a Utah prison, his last address
before Arizona's death row.
When given the opportunity, Nash leaves the 8-by-12-foot concrete and
steel Cell 39 to shower or breathe fresh air in a small recreation area,
where he can bounce a ball or turn his failing blue eyes toward a mesh
roof and a patch of desert sky.
"The old man?" says death row guard Oscar Garcia. "You have to help him
walk back and forth to the shower. Make sure he doesn't fall."
Former Deputy Warden Madeleine C. Perkins sees Nash as harmless. Until
recently it was part of her job to help supervise executions, though it
has been five years since a hearse carried away the body of a prisoner
killed by lethal injection. Of Nash, she laments, "It's a waste. Really,
what's the risk there? What danger is there in a 90-year-old man?"
Even Warden Judy L. Frigo believes that Nash makes a better role model
alive than he would dead. She describes him as a "convict," far different
from the state's 34,000 "inmates," many of them eager to clash at the
"A convict like Nash," Frigo says, "if he gives you his word, it's his
word in prison. It's good. And he exists in that certain pecking order.
There's a mutual respect. . . . We always say we wish we had more
Another old-timer here, a 74-year-old who murdered his wife's daughter in
1985, developed Alzheimer's disease on death row. His sentence has been
stayed indefinitely, explains Kent E. Cattani, chief counsel in Arizona's
capital litigation section, because the law mandates that a prisoner must
understand why he is being executed.
But age is legally irrelevant. "It does not give you a pass on the death
penalty," Cattani says.
He notes that by the time Nash's appeals crawl through the federal court
in Phoenix to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, he
could be 95 or older. And he could then turn to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"We don't look forward to any execution," Cattani says. "And we're not
going to be disappointed if he died beforehand. It's certainly likely."
Nash's current lawyer, Thomas J. Phelan of Phoenix, believes the age
factor could save his client's life. Nash is hard of hearing, wears thick
glasses and has drooping skin that hangs on him like melted wax. His
arthritic, liver-spotted hands shake. Nash says he has had 4 "little
strokes" and 3 heart attacks - "the last one almost did me in" - and takes
7 prescription medicines a day.
"He's a disarming, doddering old man," Phelan says. "When I go to see him
I have to scream at him to be heard. He talks back to me in this old rasp,
says that everyone is out to get him. He's paranoid about the government."
That might be Phelan's best bet - to prove in federal court that, like the
death row inmate with Alzheimer's, Nash's age and years in solitary
confinement have cost him a degree of sanity. Even if Phelan can get
Nash's sentence reduced, his client is not going anywhere. Even if he ever
got out of Arizona, there is still that life sentence he escaped from up
Says Phelan, "His execution would be a horror show. Think of the worldwide
publicity. We'd be the laughingstock of the world. Old people, mentally
retarded people should not be strapped down to die. What purpose is it to
end his life now?"
Nash occasionally heard from his son, until he died in 1989. His
87-year-old ex-wife, Beth, had no idea that Nash is the oldest man on
death row in America. "Oh, I think that's kind of horrible," she says when
I share the grim news over the phone.
John Johnson, an Arizona State University criminal justice professor and
anti-death penalty activist, visits Nash and sends him $100 every three
months for sodas and cookies. He bought him a subscription to the Sunday
New York Times and a TV that Nash tunes in to sports and nature shows. He
particularly likes watching women's tennis.
I heard about him late last year, after the state of Alabama executed an
all-but-bedfast 2-time murderer, 74-year-old J.B. Hubbard, who suffered
from dementia. Amazed that Nash was 89 years old and still hanging on, I
interviewed him and then started a regular correspondence by mail. Once or
twice a week, starting in November, I sent a letter to Cell 39, trying to
learn more about the man living inside. 3 or 4 times a week, he answered
His responses often strayed either into Wild West yarns of Mexican
smuggling and derring-do, recollections filled with flowery prose about
being "bushwhacked and shanghaied," or into paranoid rants about the
Once, to gauge how much of the world he had missed, I gave him 20
questions. It turns out he last voted for Eisenhower and has no idea what
a latte "is or means."
iPod? "Maybe a large shipping box?"
DVD? "The little recording discs shoplifters like to steal."
Botox? "Probably something toxic to do with botany or terrorism?"
Sometimes in his letters Nash fantasized about freedom. He would wear
spiffy black shoes and drive a new green Buick. He would listen to soft
Spanish love songs, at home with a Spanish or Nordic woman who cooked like
his ex-wife, only without the salt. He would keep an M-1 carbine or maybe
a 9-millimeter for protection. Something that "doesn't kick," he wrote.
And he would breathe the outdoors again. "Forest smells."
In other letters he recalled sitting through silent movies and learning to
read the words along the bottom of the screen. His first books were Tarzan
adventures; he loved the jungle stories. Even today, after nearly a
century, he still fancies himself roaming the woods. He calls himself "el
tigre grandote," the big predator stalking the wild. "Like a hungry tiger,
I should go hunting for a while," he wrote.
Gregory West's widow, a beautiful woman with crystal blue eyes, remembers
everything about her first husband's funeral in 1982.
The Chapel of the Chimes, in their suburb north of Phoenix, was packed.
His entire softball team showed up. So did co-workers from the Moon Valley
Coin and Stamp store, the owners too. The grandmother who raised West had
fainted in the emergency room on the morning of the shooting, but was well
enough to attend. West was laid out in blue slacks and shirt. He didn't
own a suit because the newlyweds had just bought a starter home, drove an
old beige Chevelle and were strapped for cash.
West's widow, Cindy, asks me not to reveal her new last name. She does not
want me to say where she lives or mention much about her 2 teenage sons.
Nash still frightens her. "He's escaped from prison in the past," she
When we meet in a dark Italian restaurant in a town deep in Arizona's
Tonto National Forest, she asks to see my identification before sharing a
few faded snapshots from the couple's courtship and Valentine's Day
wedding. There is Greg in the rented tux, with the curly hair, the brown
eyes, the chubby cheeks, the broad smile. He was the bright kid who rarely
had to study hard at Moon Valley High School, where he played on the
baseball team. He dreamed of becoming a psychologist someday, but not
until he was 40. He was, Cindy says, "a free spirit."
They kept a Quaker parrot and a poodle-terrier mutt. They drove to work
together because her job at the Ambiance Travel Agency was just two doors
down from the coin store. For a while Greg took up reading the Book of
Revelation, particularly the part about the Rapture. On one of their last
nights together the couple discussed buying life insurance.
Over the years Cindy gave up worrying about the fate of Viva LeRoy Nash.
In court, her husband's killer had turned around and glared at her after
his sentencing and she had glared right back, full of hatred. "He changed
my life," she says. "I was married and a widow at 23."
On the morning of the murder, Nov. 3, 1982, Nash walked to the counter of
the Moon Valley coin shop and announced, "I'll take it all." In his hand,
co-worker Susan McCullough later testified, he gripped a blue-steel
"Then I saw him shoot Greg," she said.
As he fell off his stool, West reached for a gun that the owners kept
under the counter for protection. He had never handled a firearm, and his
return shot went wild. Nash then walked deliberately around the counter,
stood over West and shot him twice more.
"Please God, no!" he screamed. "Please God, don't shoot me!"
Nash hurried outside but was quickly tackled by onlookers. Cindy rushed
inside and found her husband's blood spreading across the floor.
There was no trial; Nash pleaded guilty, he says, because prosecutors
promised not to bring up his record in court.
At his sentencing, Judge Rufus C. Coulter Jr. reviewed Nash's confession.
"I feel sorry for the poor bastard," Nash had told Phoenix detectives. "He
shot at me."
Nash also blurted out to the detectives that he deserved the death
penalty. "I'm old and useless. They ought to put old people to sleep like
The judge considered a pre-sentence report that discussed Nash's abuse as
a child, his turn to crime and his prison stints in Kansas, Connecticut
and Utah. It concluded that Nash, "for a number of reasons, is a very
Also at the sentencing, prosecutors read his criminal record, the
incarcerations and attempted escapes, thefts and assaults, the murder of
the Utah man during the botched jewelry store robbery. Ten years into his
life sentence for that crime, Nash had become eligible for a state
forestry prison job outside the razor wire. As he told me, "I just walked
The judge also reviewed psychological examinations in which Nash spoke of
hearing "spiritual voices," people he identified as Esperanza and Darlene.
He claimed Esperanza warned him that West was reaching for the gun under
the counter. While prosecutors would dismiss this as convict hooey,
defense experts found that "these experiences signified that he was
psychotic" at times.
The experts also noted that he had nicknamed himself el tigre grandote,
and that he considered himself "hungry and on the hunt" when he entered
the coin shop.
"When I'm broke and hungry, I'm related to a tiger in the jungle, and when
I go hunting, I don't think that anyone has the right to stop me," Nash
told Dr. Donald F. Tatro. "It's my right to kick them out of my way. It's
When he escaped from the state forestry job, three weeks before he killed
Gregory West, he told Tatro, "I figured I'd go back to the natural law,
the universal law. I thought, 'Let's see if I can't make it living that
way for real. I'm a tiger. Let's be a tiger.'"
About three years after arriving on death row, Nash applied for a
commutation. He also began insisting that West had fired first. "Of course
I hated to see what happened," he wrote in a letter to me. "But the guy
tried to bushwhack me and the state has really, really covered it all up.
It was a cold bushwhacking job."
His lawyer, Phelan, has been trying to get the state to reduce the death
sentence to life in prison because Nash is old, mentally impaired and was
given poor legal advice about pleading guilty. Word around the state
capital in Phoenix is that a gentleman's agreement is in the air, and that
the government foresees a day when the old man simply does not answer his
morning bed check. To die quietly lets everyone off the hook.
The oldest man on death row must think he sees a chink in the concrete
wall too, that his final con is working.
"I was always the last one to get caught," he says. "And the first to get
(source: Los Angeles Times Magazine (Richard A. Serrano is a Times staff
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