Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Dead before the hangman

Viva Leroy Nash, the oldest death row inmate in the U.S., died last week at the Arizona Department of Corrections in Florence, Ariz.

A death row inmate’s death isn’t that unusual except for the fact that the 94-year-old repeat offender hadn’t been executed. Nash had been able to hold off his execution through a number of appeals and skillful attorneys. Instead, he died of natural causes after suffering from a series of heart attacks and dementia.

After committing an armed robbery in 1932, Nash was first sent to jail at 15 and spent most of his life thereafter in and out of the system.

“I tried in an inept manner to survive in a world I didn’t understand,” Nash told the Phoenix New Times in 2008.

When I turned 15, I was celebrating the fact that I was entering high school and obtaining the freedom outside childhood, not placing myself in further detention. And I still have yet to comprehend the world around me.

But that’s just me.

In 1947, Nash was given 25 years for shooting an officer (not fatally). In 1977, Nash received two life sentences for the armed robbery and murder of a postal worker in Salt Lake City.

Nash escaped from a work detail in 1982 and proceeded to shoot Gregory West, a 23-year-old employee at the coin shop Nash was robbing. Because of a gun jam, Nash didn’t have the opportunity to kill the owner, Susan McCullough, as well.

McCullough told the New Times that, while she wasn’t pro-death penalty, she knew she never wanted him released.

“Even if he’s 100 years old, I know he’d try to find a way to hurt someone. He just would,” she said.

Though sentenced to death in 1983, Nash’s lawyers claimed that senility had left him “not legally competent” to be executed because he was simply a “doddering old man, who can’t hear, can’t see, can’t walk, and is very, very loony.”

I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong, but wasn’t the man sentenced to die by execution because he was super crazy in the first place? Other than the fact that the U.S. justice system let him rot in prison way too long, what about that has changed?

Alright, so his attorneys declared that he could no longer assist in his defense due to mental incapacity. He still killed those people and attempted to kill the police officer and McCullough. I’d say his chance for defense was pretty much shot anyhow.

Then, of course, there’s the amount of money the Arizona government spent for the care of a man condemned to die. It’s almost like continually washing a car you plan to crash into a guard rail anyway. It just doesn’t make sense.

But death sentencing has always been a controversial issue among those who don’t want it at all, those who want it humanely, and those who want it done cruelly and unusually.

Nash himself said, “Any youngster 12 years old or above who deliberately goes on a deliberate killing spree should never be jailed, but should be gently put to sleep without delay.”

He also mentioned that he didn’t believe that he fit into that category despite the number of attempted and fulfilled murders he committed.

“Those bastards who call themselves ‘lawmen,’ the cops and the prosecutors and their judges and all of them, they think they have the right to [execute] people,” Nash said. “Maybe the courts will let them kill me on my 100th birthday.”

The fact that Nash lived as long as he did is a middle finger to those he has hurt, dead and alive. He may not have made it 100 years, but he got what he wanted and was granted the ability to die on his own time, no matter how uncomfortable his end might’ve been.

Whether you agree or disagree with the death penalty, you have to remember that Greg West wasn’t allowed the luxury of a long life or the ability to defend his life in front of a jury. It was simply taken from him.

“[He] hurt so many people,” McCullough said. “What happened just spread out like … a spider web of hurt. You know, there is good and evil in this world.

“He will [now] have to face his ultimate judge … and I feel that today, justice will be served.”

Debra Flax is a sophomore majoring in journalism. Her column runs on Thursdays.

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