High Court Lets Condemned Man Withdraw Appeal

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The Nevada Supreme Court agreed Friday to let a condemned inmate withdraw an appeal that could help him avoid a lethal injection for strangling a woman at a downtown Reno motel.

The high court said Terry Jess Dennis has shown "a rational understanding of his legal position" - including a specific understanding "that by choosing to waive his rights to pursue further relief he would face imminent execution."

In lower court proceedings, justices said Dennis "repeatedly expressed and remained steadfast in his desire to forgo further proceedings that might delay or stop his execution."

The court quoted from a Washoe County District Court hearing in which Dennis stated, "Basically, I took a life and I'm ready to pay for that with mine." Dennis also said, "I would rather not live than continue to live and be a doddering old man in prison."

While Dennis has a history of mental disorders, justices also said there's substantial evidence to support the lower court finding that he's competent to make a rational choice to drop "further and possibly lifesaving litigation."

At a December court hearing in Reno, justices said Dennis denied telling a doctor that he had hallucinations, although he said he had attempted suicide in the past. He also said that he had been getting medications in prison that had "pretty much squared (him) away."

The doctor's report said, among other things, that Dennis' desire to seek the death penalty and refuse further appeals stemmed from "his depressed state and self-hatred."

Justices also rejected efforts by federal public defenders to intervene on Dennis' behalf, saying he already has a lawyer who hasn't withdrawn from the case and they're not convinced the public defender's involvement "will assist this court."

Dennis pleaded guilty to the March 1999 murder of Ilona Strumanis, 51, an Eastern bloc immigrant. He was accused of using a belt to strangle the woman, who he had met several days before. He told police she made fun of him when he was unable to perform sexually.