Death row inmate no longer eligible for execution after 38 years behind bars

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A 73-year-old man who has spent nearly four decades on death row is now ineligible for capital punishment and might be granted a new penalty hearing.

Samuel Howard was sentenced to death in 1983, after he was convicted of robbing George Monahan of $2 and fatally shooting him in the head in 1980.

According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, a New York court had recently vacated Howard’s previous lone violent felony conviction, which meant that it negated execution as a possible punishment for his killing of George Monahan.

The septuagenarian was initially given the death penalty based on two aggravating circumstances, one of which had been invalidated by the Nevada high court before the New York case was thrown out.

The death penalty can be imposed in Nevada only when at least one aggravating circumstance – such as a prior felony conviction for murder or the use or threat of violence – is found.

In this case, both prior felony convictions have been overturned, meaning that Howard is no longer eligible to be executed.

Prosecutors however argued that capital punishment should have been upheld in this case on procedural grounds, but the justices disagreed unanimously.

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Judge Douglas Herndon said: “Howard demonstrated that he is actually innocent of the death penalty, establishing a fundamental miscarriage of justice.

“Given that the statute clearly requires a conviction, we cannot salvage the aggravating circumstance based on the other evidence the State presented at the penalty hearing.

“Because the only aggravating circumstance supporting Howard’s death sentence is no longer valid, he is ineligible for the death penalty.”

Attorney Lance Hendron who litigated Howard’s sentence for years said: “We appreciate the court’s well-reasoned and thoughtful decision on behalf of Mr. Howard.”

If Howard is granted a new penalty hearing, a jury would decide between life in prison with or without the possibility of parole.

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