Robert Lee McConnell was set to die on February 1st at the hand of executioners for the state of Nevada, until yesterday when a federal court intervened, granting his motion to stay. It's the second time that Mr. McConnell has faced that last walk -- he was previously set to be executed back in 2005. Then, the execution was less than half-hour away when a stay was granted. In 2005, McConnell had announced to everyone that he was ready to die.
One wonders what that's like -- sitting on Death Row, being moved to the Carson City prison where Nevada kills its prisoners, setting your affairs in order and spending what you think are your last days on earth, only to find that they're not your last days. Especially when it's happened to you twice.
Robert Lee McConnell took responsibility for a terrible mistake that he made when he murdered his ex-girlfriend's fiance back in 2002. He pled guilty to the crime.
Robert Lee McConnell also represented himself, both at trial and in this latest motion for stay. In a request that exceeded 160 pages, McConnell asked Federal District Court Judge Robert Jones to halt the execution arguing in part that the death sentence was fundementally unfair. (McConnell seems to be somewhat a jailhouse lawyer, having had his appeals to the Nevada Supreme Court heard - and rejected - last July, where he challenged the constitutionality of the lethal injection method of execution. )
Judge Jones has granted the stay, and ordered that McConnell have one month to file the appropriate petitions as well as having legal counsel appointed to assist him in that task.
Of some note, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was litigating the constitutionality of Nevada's lethal injection method of execution in 2007, and Nevada took the challenge seriously enough to stay the execution of William Castillo, a man who had asked for the death penalty. Nevada was planning on upping the drug cocktail to double the standard amount, as well as giving Castillo a mandatory sedative. It was only when the ACLU dropped its suit that Nevada started back with capital punishment. Castillo's case remains on appeal. (By the way, they call these folk "volunteers" when they want to die rather than live any longer in state imprisonment. Chilling, isn't it?)
What McConnell will argue on his latest appeal will be interesting to follow.
Not only does he (and his newly appointed counsel) have the recent ACLU challenge to reference, as well as whatever additional appellate points they will address, they also proceed in an environment where more and more people are recognizing that powerful, powerful reality: it is simply cheaper to allow prisoners like Mr. McConnell to remain behind bars than it is to continue with capital punishment.