Las Vegas Strip Killer Ammar Harris Death Penalty Upheld by Nevada Court, But State Still Wrestles with Lethal Injection

Posted on: January 4, 2019, 12:05h. 

Last updated on: January 7, 2019, 03:16h.

UPDATE: Scott Dozier was found dead in his cell in Ely State Prison, Nevada on the afternoon of January 5, 2019, the day after the publication of this article, a suspected suicide. He had been placed in an isolation cell on suicide watch since the postponement of his execution last year.

In 2016, Ammar Harris was sentenced to death for a drive-by shooting three years earlier on the Las Vegas Strip that resulted in the deaths of three people. Last week, the Nevada Supreme Court dismissed his appeal in a state where the death penalty — though last carried out in 2006 — has lately garnered national attention through the Scott Dozier case.

Scott Dozier
Condemned murderer Ammar Harris caused destruction during a drive-by shooting on the Strip in 2013, when his victim’s car plowed into a taxi and exploded, killing two people inside. (Image: BBC/USA TODAY/

In February 2013, self-proclaimed pimp Harris, then 26, shot and killed aspiring rapper Kenneth Cherry Jr. in a case of mistaken identity.

Believing him to be a man Harris had argued with earlier that night at the Haze nightclub at Aria, he pulled up alongside Cherry’s Maserati and fired three shots through the driver’s window, killing Cherry and injuring a passenger.

The Maserati then careened into a cab, which burst into flames, causing the deaths of both taxi driver Michael Boldon and his passenger Sandra Sutton-Wasmund, a mother of three.

Inflamed Passions

Harris’ defense lawyer, Robert Langford, argued during appeal proceedings that prosecutors in the original trial should not have been permitted to show jurors photographs of Boldon’s and Sutton-Wasmund’s bodies. He said it “inflamed their passions,” resulting in a conviction of three-counts of first-degree murder.

Langford further argued that District Judge Kathleen Delaney had OK’d the pictures as trial evidence without issuing an explanation of how she had arrived at her decision.

But a panel of  Silver State judges ruled 5-2 that the photos did not irreversibly taint Harris’ trial as they upheld the death sentence.

Harris is expected to appeal to the federal courts.

Scott Dozier Precedent

While there are around 80 people on death row in Nevada, the state has not executed anyone in more than 12 years, largely due to the protracted legal wrangling involved in appeals.

Prior to that — from 1979 to 2006 — 11 out of 12 Nevada Death Row inmates were killed without filing any appeals, and all but one of those were killed by lethal injection. The first of those executions was carried out in the subsequently dismantled state gas chamber in Carson City, which had been in use since 1924 and was used a total of 31 times.

Attempting to buck the current trend is Scott Dozier, a drug dealer who was convicted in 2006 of the murder and dismemberment of a fellow methamphetamine pusher at the now-demolished La Concha Motel on the Las Vegas Strip. Dozier has repeatedly waived his right to appeal and expressed his wish to die.

Dozier’s execution by lethal injection was scheduled to be carried out at the state prison in Ely, Nevada on July 11, 2018, but was halted by court order just hours before it was due to take place because of a legal challenge by New Jersey-based drug company Alvogen.

The drugmaker said it did not want its generic midazolam product — one of several drugs used in the lethal injection procedure — associated with what it anticipated to be a “botched execution,” based on its use as part of a three-drug killing cocktail in other states, including Oklahoma, Alabama, and Arkansas.

In September, the state AG’s office applied to the Supreme Court of Nevada for the right to use midazolam — along with two other drugs — when carrying out the death penalty. Dozier’s execution has been on hold since then.

The state’s new attorney general-elect, Democrat Aaron Ford, has said he is opposed to the death penalty.

Meanwhile, the 48-year-old Dozier has been moved to solitary confinement in Ely, where he remains on suicide watch.