Reno Judge Blocks Thursday Execution

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

A judge has blocked Thursday's scheduled execution of a man convicted of murder in Reno, saying the warrant ordering Terry Dennis' death was issued improperly.

Washoe District Judge Janet Berry halted Berry's execution during a brief hearing on Friday with lawyers from the state public defender's office, the district attorney's office and the state attorney general's office.

She scheduled a hearing for Tuesday to set a new execution date for the week of Aug. 9. Dennis has denied any attempts to appeal his case.

Assistant federal Public Defender Michael Pescetta had written to the judge, telling her the warrant didn't comply with state statutes.

He also has taken the case to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

"I'm glad that the court of appeals will have a little more time to consider the case instead of working under a very short deadline," Pescetta said.

Dennis told police he strangled Ilona Strumanis, 51, with a belt during a beer-and-vodka binge at a Reno motel in March 1999 after she made fun of him when he was unable to perform sexually and questioned his claim that he killed enemy soldiers while serving as an Air Force clerk in Saigon.

Prosecutors and Dennis' lawyer met with the judge to set an execution date. They set it under a statute that called for the execution to be set 60 to 90 days from that date. Under state statute, it should have been set within 15 to 30 days.

Berry said she believed Dennis would be disappointed by her decision since he has refused legal representation.

"I know his feelings very well. He has been unwavering in his commitment to his execution date," she said.

Dennis, who has a history of alcoholism, mental disorders and suicide attempts, has said he'd rather die than live out his life as a "doddering old man in prison."

A psychiatrist said depression and self-hatred prompted Dennis to refuse any more appeals.

In his brief to the 9th Circuit Court, Pescetta wrote that Dennis "didn't have the courage to carry through the desire (to die), so the state becomes his vehicle for suicide."

But Senior Deputy Attorney General Robert Weiland wrote, "Past mental illness is not enough to upset a current determination that (Dennis) is competent ..."

The two sides made their written arguments to the appeals court this week. The court gave no indication when it might issue a ruling.


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