Death Row Inmate Dies Of Natural Causes At Age 94

PHOENIX (AP) -- Deaf, nearly blind, confined to a wheelchair and suffering from dementia and mental illness, the oldest death row inmate in the United States has died of natural causes at age 94.

Viva Leroy Nash died late Friday at the state's prison complex in Florence, said an Arizona Department of Corrections spokesman.

Nash was still officially on death row, but spokesman Barrett Marson said Sunday he did not know if Nash died in his cell or in a medical facility at the prison.

Nash had been imprisoned almost continuously since he was 15, said one of his appellate attorneys, Thomas Phalen. In many ways, Nash was a throwback to the Old West, using words like "bushwhacked" in conversation that had long been lost from everyday use.

"He was born in 1915 and he was sent to prison in 1930," Phalen said. "Think about it - he had 15 years of life in southern Utah, at a time when Utah and Arizona was the wild, wild West - and he went to prison in 1930, and he remained in prison for the next 80 years, more or less."

Nash had suffered a series of heart attacks, the most recent early this month. His jailers recently removed him from the death row cell block on their own initiative because he was so mentally unfit, Phalen said.

At the time of Nash's death, state prosecutors were appealing a federal appeals court ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court that concluded he might not be competent, Phalen said.

Phalen said his research shows that Nash grew up in southern Utah and was sent to the federal prison in Leavenworth, Kan., in 1930 for an armed robbery.

In 1977 Nash was sentenced to life for having murdered postal carrier David J. Woodhurst, but escaped from a prison work crew in 1982 where soon after he went into a coin shop in Phoenix, Arizona, and shot an employee dead.

He was sentenced to death in 1983.


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