For a man to be labeled "the most dangerous criminal in Nevada," he must've done something wrong. But that's the moniker many have given to Patrick McKenna. He has been on Nevada's death row since 1979, and he is considered the state's most dangerous felon. Why? He's killed at least one and possibly as many as four people in addition to committing numerous violent physical and sexual assaults. He was once an enforcer to the mob and corrupt union bosses and, even now, demands respect from inmates and guards alike in one of the most secure prisons in America.
But he wasn't born a monster - he was made one. McKenna's life is a tragic tale of abuse and rage and an innocent child twisted by violence and neglect. To date McKenna has been on death row longer than any other condemned man in Nevada. Read on to find out more about Nevada's most dangerous inmate, killer Pat McKenna.
After being convicted of raping two women in 1979, McKenna was angry and volatile. Drunk on jailhouse liquor and with a rising temper, McKenna got into a dispute with his cellmate, a burglary suspect named Jack “J.J.” Nobles who had been locked up for just two weeks. Stories vary as to what caused the dispute - some say Nobles refused to perform a sex act on McKenna, some say it manifested over an argument about a chess game - but in the end, the result was the same. Nobles was murdered.
McKenna claimed he was defending himself from a pack of wannabe gangsters who were trying to knife him for supposed disrespect, using Nobles as a human shield with a chokehold that he held for too long. Prosecutors went after McKenna, and charged him with the murder; he was convicted and sentenced to die. McKenna’s death sentence was overturned on appeal twice, but on the third attempt, the penalty was upheld. McKenna was scheduled to be executed on December 9, 1996, but remains on death row as of 2017, the longest stint on death row for any Nevada State prisoner.
Even though he was only convicted of one murder, he was accused of killing at least three others as a hitman for the mob and rogue local union outfits. McKenna was released from prison on parole on June 1, 1976 - three years before murdering his cellmate - despite three escape attempts and a reputation for violence. Five days later, McKenna botched a hit, opting not to kill the man, provided his target left town immediately. McKenna was convicted of sexually assaulting the target’s girlfriend. McKenna was caught promptly, and his parole was revoked. He served out the remainder of his rape sentence, and was released from prison a few years later. Six weeks after his release, he shot another man in the head while trying to rob him but the victim survived. McKenna sexually assaulted another woman who was present at the scene.
During his three-year stint out of prison between 1976 and 1979, McKenna was homeless and destitute. He was taken in by a female friend who took pity on the penniless ex-con. While he stayed with the woman - who was a sex worker at the time - known as Cherry, McKenna sexually assaulted both her and another sex worker named Gina Johnson. Brandishing a shotgun, McKenna used bed sheets to fashion nooses for the women who he then raped repeatedly over a span of hours, pausing only to use drugs. McKenna promised if either woman went to the police, he would return and kill them and others as well. He was apprehended shortly after, while lurking about the complex where the victims lived. Johnson both reported McKenna to authorities and testified against him in court. McKenna was ultimately sentenced to three consecutive life terms plus 75 years in prison.
After he was sentenced to die for the murder of his cellmate, McKenna was briefly incarcerated at the jail annex of Las Vegas City Hall. Two fellow prisoners, Felix Lorenzo and Eugene Shaw, overpowered a corrections officer and quickly armed themselves. Looking to escape, they approached McKenna for assistance. The plan was to use the uniforms of the guards to exit the jail and McKenna was known for having come close to escaping in the past. But the operation had already been botched, and the alarm went up 15 minutes after the first action by the two convicts.
In McKenna’s own words, the situation in his mind went from an attempt at freedom to an effort to not be shot by prison guards. McKenna became a spokesman and negotiator for the three of them and appealed for calm while also threatening to kill the guards. McKenna believed Shaw was secretly co-operating with law enforcement, while authorities believe Shaw and Lorenzo thought the prison had been breached. In any event, when the smoke cleared, Lorenzo and Shaw were dead, and McKenna was apprehended again after a 48 hour siege and a failed escape attempt.