LAS VEGAS (AP) — Outgoing Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak said Tuesday that he hoped his failed proposal to clear the state’s death row starts a “necessary conversation” about capital punishment as state lawmakers head into their next legislative session in February.
“Placing this matter on the agenda was done as an act of grace and with an understanding that the death penalty is fundamentally broken,” Sisolak said in addressing a packed room at the Nevada Supreme Court during a highly anticipated state Board of Pardons quarterly meeting.
Sisolak, a Democrat, confirmed last week that he would ask the pardons board at their Tuesday meeting to commute the sentences of the 57 inmates awaiting execution in Nevada to life in prison without parole. But on Monday evening, a Carson City judge ruled that the board could not move forward as planned after finding it had failed to properly notify the families of victims at least 15 days before the meeting, which is required by state law.
Although the judge ruled that the board has authority to grant such commutations with proper notice to victims and relatives, Sisolak does not have enough time to call a special meeting for the pardons board to consider his request. He leaves office in less than two weeks.
In Nevada, the governor does not have the sole authority to grant clemency. Pardons and commutations must be approved by a majority of the pardons board, which includes the governor, the state attorney general and the justices of the Nevada Supreme Court.
Had Sisolak succeeded Tuesday in clearing Nevada’s death row, it would have marked the second major victory in a week for advocates of abolishing capital punishment. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown used her executive clemency powers last Wednesday to commute that state’s 17 death sentences.
“It is my hope going forward that the discussion can continue to finally bring about a resolution to this issue,” Sisolak said.
But last year, the governor had opposed Democratic-led efforts to abolish the death penalty, which ultimately failed despite Democrats commanding majorities in both chambers of the statehouse.
At the time, Sisolak denied to reporters that his reelection campaign figured into his decision to voice concerns about the bill.
Republican Joe Lombardo, the sheriff in Las Vegas since 2015, defeated Sisolak in the November election. Lombardo, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, will take Sisolak’s place on the pardons board after he is sworn in.
Lombardo celebrated the Carson City judge’s ruling last night in a statement.
“I’m grateful that he protected the voter-approved constitutional rights of crime victims and their families,” he said, referring to a measure passed in 2018 by Nevadans known as Marsy’s Law, which expanded rights for victims, including the right to notification of all public hearings and the right to privacy.