Scott Dozier was ready to die. Not only did the Nevada death row inmate give up appealing his 2007 death sentence for the murder of 22-year-old Jeremiah Miller, but Dozier had no reservations about the possibility of becoming the first person to be executed in the United States with the opioid fentanyl.
“I think it’s awesome. I mean, it’s killing people all over the place,” Dozier, 48, told VICE News last July. “Just bang me up, man. Use a shit-ton.”
Dozier’s circumstances made him one of the country’s best-known inhabitants of death row, as more and more pharmaceutical companies refuse to let states use their products in lethal injections and force them to scramble for substitutes, like fentanyl. But this weekend, Dozier apparently decided he was done waiting for Nevada to kill him: Prison officials found him hanging from a bed sheet, tied to an air vent in his solo cell on Saturday. They pronounced him dead at 4:35 p.m.
The Nevada Department of Corrections said an investigation into Dozier’s apparent suicide is still ongoing but would not comment further.
Dozier’s execution was delayed twice — but not because the state wanted to use fentanyl. A judge stayed the execution in 2017 after questions emerged about whether the paralytic cisatracurium would mask signs of Dozier’s suffering. Then, in July, a judge halted Dozier’s second scheduled execution after a drugmaker sued Nevada to stop the state from using one of the company’s drugs in a lethal-injection combination.
Through it all, Dozier insisted he was prepared for his fate.
“I’m not a suicidal person. You understand? Like, I’m not — I don’t sit around and wish I was dead,” he told VICE News correspondent Gianna Toboni on Dec. 18, just weeks before he died. Dozier said he was placed into an isolated cell for "mental health observation," over fears that he intended to harm himself.
“I don’t want to be dead. I just would rather be dead than in prison,” he said.
Dozier also spoke with Toboni about how his fight to die has impacted his family and what happens when the State pledges to kill you — but never makes good on that promise.
Editor’s note: The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
VICE News: So when did you eventually get off suicide watch and what was that process like?
Dozier: They’re going to say that technically it wasn’t suicide watch. It was mental health observation. However, it only differs from suicide watch in that the lights go off. Aside from that, there is no substantial difference. I spent 21 days on there, from about 15:00 on Oct. 3 to almost exactly 15:00 on Oct. 24. I spent approximately another 10 days in a hold unit, and then I’ve been back here since then.
VICE News: And what were you allowed to have in that cell?
Dozier: Nothing. Literally nothing. I mean, I had my shower shoes and my boxers. I had a tank top for a little while, and they took that away, and then I got it back toward the end. But most of that time, I had shower shoes and boxers.
VICE News: What did you sleep on?
Dozier: Oh, there’s a mattress and a suicide blanket.
VICE News: Who visited you in that duration of time?
Dozier: I wasn’t allowed visits. So my attorneys visited one time or twice.
VICE News: So there were days when you wouldn’t really see anybody?
Dozier: Well, I see the cops that are working here, you know what I’m saying? But, I mean, I’m in an observation cell with a camera in it. So I’m like standing at the cell front door. It is 7 feet to where the officers sit, probably.
Editor’s note: Dozier made claims in his legal filings that the cell was not lit; that he did not have proper access to phones, legal counsel, or mental health professionals; and that he was left in isolation without contact. The state of Nevada refutes those claims.
VICE News: Do you know why you were put under that observation?
Dozier: I instructed someone how to introduce contraband into the prison system through the mail. To my understanding, I’ve been under investigation since July because they are convinced that I am committed to harming myself, and that is the reason that my outgoing mail was being monitored. Someone, I guess some random person, sent me a chart that said, “Maybe this will help. Why don’t you just do it yourself?” I don’t know, I haven’t seen the letter. But I’ve gotten a letter in the past that said, “Maybe this will help. Why don’t you just do it yourself?”
VICE News: So the State thought that you were trying to harm yourself. Were you?
Dozier: Not at that point.
VICE News: Later?
Dozier: Well, here’s the deal. I’m not a suicidal person. You understand? Like, I’m not: I don’t sit around and wish I was dead. I don’t want to be dead. I just would rather be dead than in prison. This whole process is having secondary and tertiary effects even on my family and loved ones. It’s ongoing, and it’s fucked up. So it’s been a process of discussing things, like here are the options. You can either power through and keep going, I can stop the process and try to get my appeals back, or I could commit suicide. So just as a normal course of rational discussion with my family and friends about how we are moving forward from this, it has come up. If they stopped fucking with me and could be reasonable about it and stopped torturing me or punishing me further for their fuck-ups and their inability to do this, it wouldn’t be an issue at all.
VICE News: What effect did that extended observation have on you?
Dozier: I degraded pretty terribly mentally. All of my coping mechanisms were gone, you know what I mean? They took every ability that I have to deal with this situation. Yeah, I went as bad as I’ve ever been since I’ve been in prison.
VICE News: Would it be accurate to say that you were in a good mental health state when you were put into mental health observation, but it drove you toward a poor mental state?
Dozier: Without question, that’s fair — not only poor but as bad of a mental state as I have ever been in my life.
Let me say a few more things about this. What is going on isn’t easy by any stretch. I’m still a year later, living my day. As soon as the Dec. 26 comes back up, I’m back to, “Okay is today the day we’re going to figure things out? Does my family need to start preparing for an execution date that’s 30 days out? Or do we have to prepare for legal proceedings?”
That is a fucking overwhelmingly difficult situation to live under all the time. It has vast ranging effects that are completely unperceivable for all of the people I care about. One of my friends in mental health said that my reserves are tapped. Most people have reserves to deal with stressors. I don’t, and none of my family does either. We’re all at fucking wits’ end essentially. We’re all healthy and resilient so it seems like everything is fine, but we are stressed the fuck out.
VICE News: If you were in a good mental state prior to observation, why do you think they did it?
Dozier: I can’t figure out why they did it. They claim that it was to protect me, but it just made it worse. You know what I’m saying? No one will even tell me for sure. What they keep telling me is, “This is way above us,” you know what I’m saying? So I just had to sit in my cell. But again, my cell, with phone access, and all my art supplies, is a far better place to be than out there with nothing.
Editor’s note: In legal filings, the state of Nevada claims prison officials made Dozier aware of the reasons for his period of mental health observation.
Dozier: Let’s say for the sake of argument that I had said something crazy. Or that they had found me in a failed attempt or something like that. Even in those circumstances, you don’t go throw someone under observation and then don’t talk to them. That is not how you deal with a perceived concern.
Amanda McCormick, Nicole Bozorgmir, and Carter Sherman contributed to this report.
This interview originally aired on VICE News Tonight on HBO on Dec. 18, 2018.