New Execution Date Set for Death Row Inmate

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

An Aug. 12 execution date was scheduled Friday for Terry Jess Dennis, convicted of strangling a woman during a March 1999 vodka-and-beer binge in a Reno motel room.

Dennis, 57, was scheduled to get a lethal injection this week, but the execution was delayed when Washoe District Judge Janet Berry last week ruled the initial execution warrant was flawed.

Berry on Tuesday signed a new order setting the execution at the Nevada State Prison in Carson City for the week of Aug. 9. State Prison Director Jackie Crawford followed up by scheduling Aug. 12 as the date.

Dennis was convicted of killing Ilona Strumanis, 51, an Eastern bloc immigrant who he had recently met. He told police he strangled Strumanis with a belt after she made fun of him for being unable to perform sexually and questioned his claim that he killed enemy soldiers while serving as an Air Force clerk in Saigon.

Dennis, who has a history of alcoholism, mental illness and failed suicide attempts, has withdrawn all his appeals and said he'd rather die then spend the rest of his life behind bars. A psychiatrist's report said depression and self-hatred prompted Dennis to refuse any more appeals.

Michael Pescetta, assistant federal public defender, has filed a next-friend appeal with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, which plans to hear arguments on the case on Monday.

In a brief filed with the court, Pescetta argued the execution would amount to state assisted suicide given Dennis' previous failed efforts on his own. But the attorney general's office countered that Dennis has been found mentally competent by the courts, and his past mental illness is irrelevant.

Dennis, raised in Washington state, has been described by former classmates and friends as a nice person who sang in his high school choir but who also got hooked on drugs and alcohol as a teenager.

Court records state Dennis claimed he had been drinking since he was 13 or 14 years old, had been jailed at age 14 for marijuana use, and had made his first of as many as a dozen suicide attempts in 1966.

Dennis was convicted in 1979 in Snohomish County Superior Court, Wash., for assault and also had a 1984 conviction in the same court for arson and assault, and spent about 2 1/2 years in prison before moving to Reno in 1995.

Dennis' execution would be the second this year in Nevada. His close friend on death row, Lawrence Colwell Jr., 35, was executed March 26 for the 1994 strangling of an elderly tourist in Las Vegas.


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