Prosecutors deny that they have a conflict of interest in their push to execute Zane Floyd for killing four people inside a Las Vegas grocery store, as state lawmakers consider whether to abolish capital punishment.
Floyd’s attorneys have asked a judge to disqualify the Clark County district attorney’s office from his case because a pair of prosecutors sit in the state Senate.
But Chief Deputy District Attorney Alex Chen called that a “manufactured conflict,” writing in court papers filed late Monday that neither of the deputies had any role in Floyd’s case.
“Despite being the individual responsible for murdering four innocent victims, Defendant Floyd instead tries to portray the Clark County District Attorney’s Office as the one that is acting unlawfully,” Chen wrote. “There simply is no merit to his claim.”
Floyd was convicted and sentenced to die for fatally shooting four people — Lucy Tarantino, 60, Thomas Darnell, 40, Chuck Leos, 40, and Dennis “Troy” Sargent, 31 — inside an Albertsons on West Sahara Avenue in 1999. Floyd also shot Zachar Emenegger, 21, but he survived after playing dead in the produce section.
Should his penalty be carried out, Floyd would be the first person executed in Nevada in 15 years.
Floyd’s lawyers have argued that the dual roles of prosecutors Nicole Cannizzaro, the Democratic majority leader, and Melanie Scheible, who chairs the judiciary committee, amount to a violation of the state’s constitution.
This month, the Nevada Assembly approved a bill that would abolish the death penalty and commute the sentences of those on death row to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
For the bill to pass, it must be approved by the Senate.
District Attorney Steve Wolfson has called the timing “purely coincidental” and said his office started working toward Floyd’s execution in the months before lawmakers gathered for this legislative session.
“There simply is no merit to the image that Defendant Floyd wants to portray that District Attorney Wolfson pressured any of the citizen legislators from voting in a way that deviates from their own personal conscience,” Chen wrote.
While Wolfson has been outspoken in his opposition to abolishing the death penalty, including before the Legislature, Chen argued that at least one member of the federal public defender’s office, which represents Floyd, testified in support of ending capital punishment.
“Although Defendant Floyd does not specifically state it, his position is essentially that the entire Office of the District Attorney is in violation of the Nevada Constitution, thereby making every prosecution seemingly null and void, because two individuals that are prosecutors in the District Attorney’s Office also serve part-time at the Nevada Legislature,” the prosecutor wrote. “Hypothetically if one were to believe that the entire Clark County District Attorney’s Office was in violation of the Nevada Constitution thereby warranting its removal in this case, it would correspondingly mean that the current Nevada Legislature is illegitimate because it has members that sometimes work in offices that perform various executive functions.”
The federal public defenders representing Floyd declined to comment Tuesday.
Floyd’s lawyers have sought a stay of execution in federal court, where a judge has set a hearing for next week on the state’s execution protocol.
His attorneys argue that Nevada’s three-drug execution cocktail amounts to cruel and unusual punishment and that he would “suffer a torturous death” if injected with drugs linked to previously “botched” executions.
Officials with the Nevada Department of Corrections have not responded to inquiries from the Las Vegas Review-Journal regarding the status of the state’s lethal injection drugs.