Condemned Nevada Inmate Still Won't Appeal

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

Nevada death row inmate Terry Jess Dennis ate cheeseburgers and had another visit with his brother Wednesday as Nevada State Prison officials moved ahead with plans for the 9 p.m. Thursday execution that Dennis wants.

Prison spokesman Fritz Schlottman said Dennis met with his brother, Gary Dennis, and asked that all his remaining meals be the same thing: cheeseburgers. He's asked for two of them and a Coke on Thursday evening, a few hours before his lethal injection.

Gary Dennis told The Associated Press that his brother wants to be executed "because he sees lethal injection as a relatively painless way to go, has attempted suicide in the past, but has never quite accomplished it on his own."

Dennis pleaded guilty to strangling a woman in Reno in March 1999, and Washoe County District Attorney Dick Gammick said Wednesday he'd make available to the media copies of Dennis' videotaped interview with policy immediately after the murder.

Gammick said Dennis "in his own words describes the details of the murder in agonizing detail" on the videotape.

Dennis' estranged wife, Bonnie Dennis, said Wednesday she saw the tape at Dennis' trial and believed he wasn't exaggerating.

"I had been on the end of that same kind of rage," she said, adding that when Dennis drank or used drugs "he was like a demon."

Assistant Federal Defender Michael Pescetta, who filed a next-friend stay petition with the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday, said he expected to get word from the high court early Thursday. He said Dennis already has said he doesn't want to meet with lawyers trying to stop his execution.

Pescetta, arguing for Reno attorney Karla Butko who sought next-friend legal status, has said the 9th Circuit Court didn't follow the standard required by the Supreme Court in determining whether a person is competent or not - and therefore needing next-friend help.

The attorney said the case is "entirely unlike" others in which "next friend" evidence was rejected because of clashing expert opinions. In this case, he said the only psychiatrist to examine Dennis said he was mentally ill.

Pescetta also said the circuit court stressed Dennis' outward demeanor as a sign of his competence, adding the ruling "means, to put it crudely, that no one need ever be found incompetent unless he looks 'crazy' to a lay person."

Nevada prosecutors say Dennis was found mentally competent by the lower courts, despite his history of alcoholism, suicide attempts and the psychiatric report that concluded depression and self-hatred prompted Dennis to refuse any more appeals.

Dennis, 57, pleaded guilty to killing Ilona Strumanis, 51, an Eastern bloc immigrant who he had recently met, during a vodka-and-beer binge in a motel room.

Dennis told police he strangled Strumanis with a belt after she ridiculed 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. But his brother said Dennis had been stationed in Thailand, not Vietnam.

The condemned man, who was 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 show Dennis claimed he had been drinking since he was a teenager, had been jailed at age 14 for marijuana use and had made his first suicide attempt in 1966.


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