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 in 1983 to death for robbing George Monahan $2 and then fatally shooting him in his 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 sentenced to death based upon two aggravating circumstances. One of these had been invalidated in Nevada by the high court before the New York case.
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.
Howard is now eligible for execution because the two prior felony convictions against him have been overturned.
Although the prosecution claimed that capital punishment should not have been applied in this case due to procedural reasons, the justices unanimously disagreed.
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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“Because the only aggravating circumstance supporting Howard’s death sentence is no longer valid, he is ineligible for the death penalty.”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.