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Jesse Walter BISHOP





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Las Vegas casino robbery - Heroin addict
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: December 1977
Date of birth: March 1, 1933
Victim profile: Baltimore newlywed David Ballard, 22
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Clark County, Nevada, USA
Status: Executed by asphyxiation-gas in Nevada on October 22, 1979
Jesse Bishop, as he stepped into the gas chamber in Nevada, October 22, 1979. 

"Well, the Lord is going to get another one."


Jesse Bishop, convicted of murder in a Las Vegas casino robbery, was the last person to be executed by lethal gas in Nevada, in 1979. Since then, all executions have been by lethal injection.  

Bishop confessed to the 1977 killing of Baltimore newlywed David Ballard, 22, during a robbery of the El Morocco Casino on the Strip. A casino shift manager who survived after Bishop shot him in the stomach, testified that Bishop shot Ballard "like a dog."


Jesse Bishop was the last person to be executed in Nevada using lethal gas on October 22, 1979.

Bishop wanted to be executed, but the ACLU intervened. The Pardons Board, headed by then-Gov. Bob List, voted 5-2 to reject a request to commute his sentence. He was executed two months later.

Bishop, the first man to be executed in Nevada following the reinstatement of capital punishment by the Nevada Legislature in 1977, was sentenced to death for killing David Ballard in the El Morocco casino in Las Vegas in December 1977.


Jesse Walter Bishop (March 1, 1933 October 22, 1979) was convicted of the murder of David Ballard. He was executed in 1979 by the State of Nevada by gas chamber at the age of 46. He became the first person to be executed in Nevada since 1976 when the death penalty was reinstated, and the third person to be executed in the United States since 1976, after Gary Gilmore and John Arthur Spenkelink.

He was also the last person in Nevada to be executed by the gas chamber. Executions thereafter have been carried out by lethal injection.


Jesse Bishop - A killer smiles at his own execution

Daily Mail

23rd October 1979

A SMILE flickered across the face of Jesse Bishop as the cyanide pellets dropped into the acid. Then the killer took deep gulps of air, as though deliberately trying to inhale the
deadly fumes.

He took nine minutes to die.   But he was 'like an iceman' and 'as tough as nails to the end,' according to prison director Charles Wolff.

Bishop, a professional gunman who bragged about his life of fancy cars,   beautiful  women   and   drugs, had  spurned  all  attempts  to  save him.

His death in the gas chamber at Carson City, Nevada, made him the second man to be executed in the United States this year and the third since the Supreme Court ordered stricter capital punishment laws in 1972

His final words to Mr Wolff were: 'This is one more step down the road of life that I've been heading for all my life.'

Before his execution, 47-year-old Bishop had a last meal of steak, sent his compliments to the cook and refused to pick up the telephone which had been provided so that he could make a last-minute appeal.


Dressed in denim trousers, white shirt and white socks, the man whom psychiatrists pronounced sane enough to die was strapped into the chair.

A stethoscope was taped to his chest. This was attached to a long tube which extended from the gas chamber, so a doctor could tell when he was dead.

The heavy metal door to the ten foot by ten foot death chamber, which had not been used for 18 years, clanged shut. Three volunteer guards flicked switches which activated a device to drop dozens of cyanide tablets into a black vat beneath Bishop's chair filled with diluted sulphuric acid.

During the execution his body twitched, his head rose and fell several times to his chest, his eyes closed and his mouth fell open. After several minutes, his body was motionless, except for an occasional shudder.

Outside the prison, about 75 opponents of the death penalty held a candlelight vigil. They recited the Lord's prayer when they learned Bishop was dead. But H miles away in Carson City, it was business as usual in the casinos.

Bishop, who had spent a total of 20 years in prison gunned down newlywed David Ballard. The bridegroom had left his celebration champagne to try to stop Bishop robbing a Las Vegas casino.

But shortly , after the execution, Nevada District Judge Paul Goldman, one of the three who sentenced Bishop to death, said he had spoken to the killer in August. Bishop told him he had been involved in 18 contract killings, apparently involving drugs.


"Let's Go"

Death comes to a Bishop

Monday, Nov. 05, 1979

Dressed in a crisp white shirt and pressed Levis, he strode purposefully into the freshly whitewashed chamber at Nevada State Prison, near Carson City. "He looked as if he were ready to go to a disco," recalls TIME's Guy Shipler, one of 14 official witnesses. The man was then strapped into a metal chair, a long stethoscope tube poking out from his collar and snaking through a wall socket into a side room, where a doctor waited to monitor his heartbeat. At 12:14 a.m., a capsule of cyanide gas tumbled down a tube and plopped into a dish of acid. The man sniffed the air expectantly and shrugged nonchalantly. Seconds later, he grimaced and began breathing deeply. His face turned red and then his head dropped to his chest. At 12:21 a.m., the doctor pronounced the man dead.

Thus ended the life of Jesse Walter Bishop, 46, heroin addict and career criminal who committed his first armed robbery at age 15 and passed 22 of his last 27 years behind bars. With similar steadfastness, Bishop had denounced all efforts made on his behalf by civil libertarians to stay his execution for the 1977 murder of Newlywed David Ballard, 22, during a casino stickup in Las Vegas. Indeed, Bishop waived his right to a jury trial and immediately pleaded guilty to the killing.

When his public defenders attempted to argue that their client did not deserve a death sentence because of ''mitigating circumstances'' (Bishop won a Purple Heart while serving as a paratrooper during the Korean War and became hooked on heroin only after being administered morphine by medics for a battle injury), he promptly fired them.

Terming the death penalty ''an occupational hazard'' in his line of work, Bishop refused to authorize an appeal of his case even when given the chance to do so minutes before entering the gas chamber. Said he: ''This is just one more step down the road of life that I've been heading all my life. Let's go.''

Bishop is the third person to walk that road in the U.S. since 1967.* According to the N.A.A.C.P. Legal Defense Fund, 550 men and six women in 28 states now remain on death rows. Who may die next is uncertain, since none of the cases has yet exhausted its appeals. But opponents of the death penalty have little doubt that others will soon be executed, and that, though Bishop's case is unusual, his demise further hurts their cause. ''Each execution makes it easier to kill the next time,'' says former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who tried several times to dissuade Bishop from his course of action. But the killer argued that his execution might be so repulsive that it would weaken support for the death penalty.

Adds Clark glumly: ''I don't think he's right.''

*In 1977, Gary Gilmore was executed by firing squad in Utah, and last May, John Spenkelink was electrocuted in Florida. Spenkelink, unlike Gilmore and Bishop, went to his death involuntarily.


U.S. Supreme Court

LENHARD v. WOLFF , 443 U.S. 1306 (1979)

443 U.S. 1306

Kirk B. LENHARD and George E. Franzen, Clark County Deputy Public Defenders, Individually and as next friends acting on behalf of Jesse Walter Bishop, Applicants,
Charles WOLFF, Warden, Nevada State Prison System, et al.

No. A-172.

Sept. 7, 1979.

Mr. Justice REHNQUIST, Circuit Justice.

On August 25, 1979, I temporarily enjoined respondents from executing Jesse Bishop, upon whom a death sentence was imposed by the State District Court for Clark County, Nev., and affirmed by the Supreme Court of Nevada in July 1979. I issued the injunction so that I would be able to consider the response of Nevada officials and additional information of record which I requested from each of the parties. In the exercise of what I find to be as difficult a task as must be performed by any Member of this Court-the obligation to act as surrogate for the entire Court in deciding whether to grant or deny extraordinary relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1651 pending disposition of a petition for certiorari by the full Court-I have determined that it is appropriate to continue the stay of execution pending consideration by the full Court. Since the State of Nevada is entitled to have the mandates of its courts enforced unless they offend the laws or Constitution of the United States, and since Jesse Bishop has concededly disclaimed any effort either by himself or by others on his behalf to prevent his execution, I feel obliged to summarize briefly the reasons which lead me to refer the application to the full Court.

The defendant under sentence of death has wholly disclaimed any effort to seek a stay from this Court or to seek review of the decision of the Supreme Court of Nevada by means of certiorari in this Court. The only two comparable cases which have come before this Court are Gilmore v. Utah, 429 U.S. 1012 (1976), and Evans v. Bennett, 440 U.S. 1301 , in which I granted a stay of execution on April 5, 1979, in order that the case might be considered by the full Court. The full Court thereafter vacated the stay. Evans v. Bennett, 440 U.S. 987 (1979).

In each of these cases, the defendant under sentence of death had disassociated himself from efforts to secure review of that sentence.* In Evans, I entered the stay of execution in recognition of the fact that four Members of the Court had dissented from the ultimate denial of the stay in Gilmore, supra. While my Brothers BRENNAN and MARSHALL'S view of the death sentence as "cruel and unusual punishment" within the prohibition of the Eighth Amendment under all circumstances might permit review of any capital case by this Court, the dissenting opinions of my Brothers WHITE and BLACKMUN seem more limited in scope. Those opinions urged plenary consideration of the application to resolve doubts about the standing of Gilmore's mother to prosecute the action without her son's consent when substantial questions regarding the constitutionality of the state statute remained unresolved. I therefore concluded in Evans that a stay until the regularly scheduled Conference of the Court the following week would be most consonant with my obligations as Circuit Justice.

In my view, the initial barrier to be overcome in the present case by applicants Lenhard and Franzen, who with commendable fidelity to their assignment by the trial court have sought this stay and petitioned for habeas relief in the federal courts, is the finding of the courts which have passed on the question that defendant Jesse Bishop is competent to waive the assertion of any constitutional infirmities in the sentence imposed upon him by the Nevada courts.

A successful attack on Bishop's competency is the requisite threshold for applicants' standing. Even if standing were not a barrier, a view some Members of the Court may well subscribe to, applicants still would have the burden of demonstrating some constitutional deficiency in the proceedings, as I read the views of my Brother WHITE. For this reason, I have considered the nature of the judicial review afforded on the merits thus far, as well as the review afforded the determination of Bishop's competency.

At the trial court level, both Evans and Bishop pleaded guilty, whereas Gilmore was tried and sentenced by a jury. Gilmore declined to seek any appellate review in the Supreme Court of Utah, and was granted none. Evans' conviction and sentence were reviewed pursuant to a requirement for mandatory appeal in both the Alabama Court of Appeals and in the Supreme Court of Alabama. Bishop's case was comprehensively reviewed by the Supreme Court of Nevada. Evans additionally unsuccessfully sought a writ of certiorari from this Court to review the judgment of the Supreme Court of Alabama, which writ was denied on February 21, 1979. 440 U.S. 930.

Thus, each of the three cases had progressed to different levels of review within the judicial system: Gilmore had neither sought nor obtained any appellate review of the death sentence imposed upon him by the trial court; Bishop has obtained full review by the Supreme Court of Nevada of the death sentence and proceedings which led up to it in the trial court; Evans not only obtained state appellate review, but also petitioned this Court unsuccessfully for a writ of certiorari challenging the affirmance of his death sentence by the Alabama courts.

In Gilmore, no state or federal court had reviewed the constitutionality of the Utah statute. The Supreme Court of Nevada in reviewing Bishop's case, however, expressly upheld the constitutionality of the Nevada capital punishment statute. The court reasoned:

    "The Nevada statutes authorizing the imposition of the death penalty are similar to the Florida statutes which were found to be constitutional in Proffitt v. Florida, 428 U.S. 242 [] (1976). The Nevada statutes provide for a consideration of any mitigating factor the defendant may want to present. NRS 200.035(7). Cf. Lockett v. Ohio, [ 438 U.S. 586 , 98 S. Ct. 2954 (1978)]. The imposition of the death penalty in this case offends neither the United States Constitution nor the Nevada Constitution." Bishop v. Nevada, 95 Nev. 511, 517-518, 597 P.2d 273, 276-277 (1979).

Again, in my view, the substantive constitutional arguments which might be made by defendant Bishop in this Court in support of review of the judgment of the Supreme Court of Nevada bear only tangentially on the merits of the application for stay, since the contentions are not being made by Bishop, but rather by the public defenders asserting that they act as "next friends." But since Mr. Justice WHITE, joined by Mr. Justice BRENNAN and Mr. Justice MARSHALL in Gilmore, stated that "[u]ntil the state courts have resolved the obvious serious doubts about the validity of the state statute, the imposition of the death penalty in this case should be stayed," 429 U.S., at 1018 , and Mr. Justice BLACKMUN stated that "the question of Bessie Gilmore's standing and the constitutional issue are not insubstantial," id., at 1020, it is apparent that four Members of this Court do not consider the issue of the "standing" of a relative to assert claims which the convicted defendant refuses to assert and the merits of those claims to be wholly disassociated from one another . The constitutionality of Bishop's sentence has, in any event, been subjected to substantially greater scrutiny than the sentence imposed in Gilmore.

From my view of the controlling legal precepts, the record evidence of competency is more important to the determination of whether a stay is appropriate than is the merit of the underlying application. While I do not purport to have extensive knowledge of the concept of "next friend" in a legal proceeding such as this, it strikes me that from a purely technical standpoint a public defender may appear as "next friend" with as much justification as the mother of John L. Evans or of Gary Gilmore. But I do think the contrast between the position of Bishop's family in this case and that of Gilmore's mother and Evans' mother in those cases is worth noting. Here Bishop's family has by no means repudiated him, but they have at the same time declined to pursue or join in the pursuit of any further judicial review of the death sentence. While the familial relationship of the "next friend" to the defendant may not be relevant to the technical question of standing, it may provide some inferences as to the issue of competence. The refusal of the family to seek relief may well support the finding of the courts which have considered the question that the defendant is competent to waive additional proceedings.

Gilmore underwent competency proceedings both prior to trial and after he announced his intention to waive appellate review. With respect to the waiver of the latter right, the trial judge appointed a prison psychiatrist to examine Gilmore. On the basis of a 1-hour interview the psychiatrist submitted a report to the court finding Gilmore competent to waive appeals. Reports of two prison psychologists were submitted as corroboration, and the trial judge entered a finding of competency.

Bishop was found competent to plead guilty and represent himself after an evidentiary hearing at which three examining psychiatrists reported that Bishop was competent. There has been no subsequent judicial determination of his competency to waive further litigation. A state- appointed psychiatrist, however-the only psychiatrist that Bishop would consent to see-submitted a report based on a 4-hour interview, concluding that Bishop is competent to waive further review. The United States District Court for the District of Nevada, in its opinion in the habeas proceeding dated August 23, 1979, stated:

    "The Court has reviewed the record of the proceedings before the Nevada Supreme Court and the Eighth Judicial District of the State of Nevada and, based thereon, finds that Jesse Walter Bishop made a knowing and intelligent waiver of any and all federal rights he might have asserted both before and after the Eighth Judicial District imposed sentence, and, specifically that the State of Nevada's determinations of his competence knowingly and intelligently to waive any and all such rights were firmly grounded." Application, App. B, p. 5.

On appeal to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, a panel of that court stated in its opinion:

    "Bishop himself has steadfastly maintained that he does not wish to seek relief in the federal courts and refuses to authorize any petition for habeas corpus or stay of execution to be filed on his behalf. Most recently he appeared in open court at the hearing before the district court on August 23, 1979 and declared that he believes he has a constitutional right to waive any rights to a federal appeal and desire to do so. He maintained he was intelligently and competently exercising his right to refrain from seeking relief from the federal courts." 603 F.2d 91, 93 (1979).

The Court of Appeals went on to observe that following the initial determination of competence to stand trial and plead guilty:

    "[T]here has been no showing of Bishop's incompetence. . . .

"Bishop was found to be competent at the time of trial by three psychiatrists; he was observed by the panel of three judges during the penalty hearing; he was observed in a subsequent proceeding before the trial court on July 25, 1979; he appeared personally before the United States District Court on August 23, 1979; and he was examined by a licensed psychiatrist on August 21, 1979. On none of these occasions was there an indication to those responsible persons that he was incompetent. We find that there has been no evidence of incompetence sufficient to warrant a hearing on the issue ." Ibid.

I thus find myself in much the same position in which I found myself in Evans v. Bennett. If I were casting my vote on the application for a stay as a Member of the full Court, I would vote to deny the stay. I am in full agreement with the per curiam opinion of Judges Wright, Sneed, and Hug of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. I am likewise in full agreement with the observations of Judge Sneed in his concurring opinion suggesting that however worthy and high minded the motives of "next friends" may be, they inevitably run the risk of making the actual defendant a pawn to be manipulated on a chessboard larger than his own case. The idea that the deliberate decision of one under sentence of death to abandon possible additional legal avenues of attack on that sentence cannot be a rational decision, regardless of its motive, suggests that the preservation of one's own life at whatever cost is the summum bonum, a proposition with respect to which the greatest philosophers and theologians have not agreed and with respect to which the United States Constitution by its terms does not speak.

But because I am acting as surrogate for the full Court, and because the Court will have an opportunity to consider this application at its regularly scheduled Conference the last week of this month, I have resolved doubts which greatly trouble me as to my proper course of action in favor of continuing the injunction which I previously issued to and including Monday, October 1, 1979, unless previously modified or vacated by the Court.


[ Footnote * ] In Evans, the Court was informally advised after the date upon which I granted the stay that Evans had authorized the prosecution of the federal habeas corpus action in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama.




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