Patrick McKenna spent nearly his whole adult life on death row. And that is where he died. On April 19th, after surgery to remove a tumor, he died after a series of subsequent heart attacks.
McKenna, perhaps one of the most notorious killers on Nevada’s Death Row, had been sentenced to death in 1980 for charges of first-degree murder, kidnapping, sexual assault, and robbery with a deadly weapon. And yet, over 40 years later, he died in prison of other causes. This despite three death sentences.
Although the crime that put him on death row was the murder of his cellmate in 1979, he had started his criminal life at the age of 14 when he stabbed a man and was sent to a state juvenile correction institution. Again, at the age of 18, we was ordered to serve 20 years in prison for rape and assault. He escaped twice, attacked a correctional officer when he returned, and yet was still paroled where he was only free for a matter of weeks.
The conviction that earned him his death row stature was after all this, and still, he continued to commit crimes behind bars. The murder conviction of his cellmate was reversed two times and his penalty reversed three times before jurors agreed, again, that he should be executed.
Yet, sixty years after his first juvenile crime, he was still around to die of natural causes.
All this as the state assembly had just approved a bill to abolish the death penalty. Some opponents of the death penalty point to McKenna as a prime example of how the penalty itself is broken. In the case of McKenna, it seemed to have little meaning when it came to keeping him from perpetrating crime. In fact, he was not so afraid of death itself but of the “indignity” and claimed that he would kill himself first.
Tom Pitaro, a veteran criminal defense attorney, feels that capital punishment in the state his little meaning or effect when it comes to these types of criminals and that the system that allowed him to remain on death row for all those years was simply not functional. Still, others feel that it is not the penalty itself that is flawed but the system surrounding it.
Steve Wolfson, Clark County District Attorney, feels the problem is the system and not the death penalty itself. After every reversal, a new jury found McKenna guilty, agreeing that he should be executed. Calling McKenna the “poster child” of how flawed the system is, Wolfson pointed out that, despite the fact that several juries imposed the death penalty, he was still around decades later to die of natural causes because of the way the system works.
While this may be true for hardened career criminals such as McKenna, the system does work for others. For those who have been caught up in zealous criminal prosecution, we still argue that given a strong and talented defense, we can keep individuals out of the system who should never be there to begin with.
If this is the case for you, contact LV Criminal Defense to see how we can help.