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Death penalty history: Nevada once used an automatic shooting machine to kill a prisoner

Courtesy: Nevada Historical Society, Mob Museum

Convicted murderer Scott Dozier is scheduled to be executed Tuesday, the first execution at Ely State Prison and Nevada's first execution in 11 years.

The state will also be using an untested lethal drug cocktail, which has prompted controversy as some fear the execution will be inhumane.

But it will hardly be the state's first unique execution.

Before 1903, executions were the responsibility of the local sheriff where the crime was committed.

The only woman to be executed in Nevada was Elizabeth Potts, who was hanged in 1890.

In the 114 years since the Nevada Department of Corrections has carried out executions, 54 people, all men, have been put to death, according to NDOC records.

For many years, hanging was the primary execution method, but in 1911 the state legislature changed the law to allow prisoners to choose between hanging and death by firing squad.

Andriza Mircovich was the only inmate to ever choose to be executed by shooting. But the Department of Corrections struggled to find employees willing to participate.

"There was some controversy over trying to get enough individuals, staff to volunteer for that execution using firearms," said Glen Whorton, longtime NDOC employee and eventual NDOC director.

"Ultimately, several employees and the warden resigned."

The new warden created a unique shooting machine that killed Mircovich automatically, Whorton said.

The 1921 Nevada Legislature outlawed hanging and shooting, becoming the first state to allow execution by lethal gas.

In 1924, Gee Jong was the first person in the United States to be executed by lethal gas.

Thirty-two prisoners were killed in a gas chamber over the next 50 years before safety concerns prompted the state to switch to lethal injections.

"There were concerns about the seal and whether or not it was a tight environment," Whorton said. "There's also concerns about evacuating the gas."

Eleven inmates have been executed by a lethal cocktail.

Over the years there have been several attempts to abolish capital punishment in the Silver State.

Most recently, two Democratic lawmakers sponsored a bill to prohibit the death penalty. That bill never advanced out of committee during the 2017 legislative session.


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