Yesterday, the oldest death row inmate in the United States died of natural causes. He was 94 years old.
Born in 1915, Viva Leroy Nash was first arrested at the age of 15 in 1930 after an armed robbery and was sent to a federal prison in Leavenworth, KS. After that, he ended up in Connecticut where he shot a police officer (the officer survived) and was arrested a short time later in Dallas, Texas. He served 25 years in prison for that shooting. After that, he landed back in Salt Lake City – where he’d grown up – and he pulled off another armed robbery and murder in 1977. He was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences.
Somehow, this honest-to-God winner got assigned to an offsite work crew and in October 1982, he escaped. He ran for three weeks before robbing a coin shop in Phoenix. During the robbery, he shot employee Greggory West. A neighboring shop owner held Nash at gunpoint until police arrived and arrested him. Nash was then sentenced to death in the State of Arizona.
1982 was 28 years ago. 28 YEARS. At the time of his death his lawyers spoke fondly of him and talked about his deafness, near-blindness and wavering dementia. They spoke as if it had been a travesty that Nash had died in prison the way he did. As if society was wrong for not letting him go.
The real travesty is that it took 28 years for a death row inmate to die.
Those who are opposed to the death penalty, think about this: Nash, from the time he was 15 years old, did nothing but hurt people. Armed robbery, assault, murder, all of it caused nothing but pain. If he didn’t know it was wrong he wouldn’t have tried to run from the authorities when he committed the crimes. He knew what he was doing was wrong and he knew there would be a high price if he got caught. He learned early on how to play the system.
By the time he was caught in Utah in 1977, everyone should have known he would be a threat as long as he was alive. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s moratorium on executions, he was given two life sentences. Rather than sending him to a maximum-security facility, though, they gave him assignment to a work crew and he escaped to kill another day. For all we know, he may have committed more crimes that we didn’t finger him for.
It was a shame that he was allowed to founder in prison for 28 years. It was a shame that he was blind, deaf and approaching dementia. It’s a shame because he shouldn’t have been allowed to live as long as he did.
The arguments about those freed from death row by DNA evidence hold little water. There have been an extremely low number of those (I think a total of three) and most others released from death row have not actually been released from prison. Most have had their death sentences commuted to life sentences for one reason or another (one was commuted because the offender was 17 at the time that he murdered a nurse in Arizona and stole her truck and lived in her home after the crime and bragged to his friends about it, supposedly he was “too young” to understand what he’d done). Others have been granted pardons, but those are few and far between, too.
Nowadays when a person is accused of a crime, it’s because there is pretty damning evidence that the accused actually committed the crime. Our justice system is badly broken and needs to be fixed. If a person convicted of murder is sentenced to death, no more appeals for two decades–set aside one court to hear all death penalty appeals and give each convicted offender a maximum of one year. If the appeal is heard and denied before then, the death warrant should be signed and within 24 hours the death sentence should be carried out. It should be automatic.
I have no more tolerance whatsoever for liberals who think that the death penalty is wrong. Tell that to Bryan Wayne Hulsey, who murdered my friend Tony while he was on duty as a Glendale Police officer in 2007. He had only been out of prison for three months before he did that, and Tony wasn’t the first cop he’d attacked, and Tony’s family still waits and hopes for justice. Tell Deb Shuhandler and her two daughters; they just laid Eric, a 16-year-veteran of the Gilbert police department to rest after he was killed by another lifetime thug. Tell the children of Josie Greathouse Fox that the death penalty is wrong; their mother was a sheriff’s deputy in Millard County, Utah and was shot to death by an illegal alien drug offender.
Tell the walking wounded all over this nation who have survived losing a piece of themselves to murder that the death penalty is wrong. Tell them that it’s inhumane to take the life of the flab of human debris that killed their loved ones. We are all tired of hearing about how those people have rights. We had rights, too. As far as I can tell we still do. Don’t we have a say?