Post by SoulTrainOz on Jun 15, 2006 1:09:57 GMT -5
The Nevada Supreme Court has been urged to overturn the death sentences of a man convicted of killing a Reno cabbie in 1987 and another man convicted of torturing and strangling 2 women in Las Vegas in 1992.
Lawyers for John Bejarano, convicted in the Reno case, and Michael Rippo, convicted in the Las Vegas case, say the high court's 2004 "McConnell" ruling should be applied retroactively in their clients' cases.
That decision changed the way prosecutors can seek a death sentence. It rejected the practice by prosecutors of charging a person with 1st-degree murder for a killing that occurs while another felony is being committed, and then using that same charge as an aggravator to seek a death sentence.
Prosecutors warned that a retroactive application of the McConnell ruling in the cases of Bejarano and Rippo would benefit dozens of death row inmates, and could result in some of the most notorious criminals in the state getting their sentences eased to life in prison.
Post by SoulTrainOz on Jun 15, 2006 1:12:59 GMT -5
The Nevada Supreme Court was urged Wednesday to overturn the death sentence of Donte Johnson, convicted of the 1998 execution-style slayings of 4 men in a Las Vegas robbery that netted Johnson and his accomplices about $240 and some electronic devices.
Lee-Elizabeth McMahon, a deputy special public defender, told the high court that the death sentence should be set aside because prosecutors presented "d**ning" reports about more than two dozen jailhouse infractions, but defense lawyers weren't able to confront and question the jailers who wrote the reports.
McMahon said a constitutional right to confront witnesses was affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2004. She also questioned whether the collapse of a brother of one of the murder victims in the courtroom was staged in an effort to influence jurors.
Steven Owens, chief deputy Clark County district attorney, countered that the high court ruling on confronting witnesses may apply to trials but the reports on Johnson's jailhouse behavior - which included tossing another inmate off a second-floor balcony - were exempt.
Cautioning against a decision that would lead to a major revision of death penalty proceedings in Nevada, Owens said existing requirements are so stringent that "we have an arm and perhaps a leg tied behind our back."
Owens hit a judicial nerve when he said that letting defendants confront the authors of such reports would "needlessly complicate" proceedings in death penalty cases.
"To say it's not convenient is not an argument, Mr. Owens," Justice Nancy Becker said.
In arguing that any errors in the proceedings should be viewed as harmless, Owens contended that many rulings on the evidence in Johnson's case favored the defendant.
"Not on the verdict," said Justice Bill Maupin, referring to Johnson's death sentence.
While McMahon said the incident in which a brother of one of the murder victims fainted in court was "probably" staged, Chief Justice Bob Rose said that argument wasn't part of the formal record that the Supreme Court will review in coming to a decision.
Justice Jim Hardesty said that the defense arguments about the reports on jailhouse infractions put the high court in an awkward position because they're not included in the official record either.
Johnson was sentenced to death for killing Matthew Mowen, 19, Jeffrey Biddle, 19, Tracey Gorringe, 20 and Peter Talamantez 20. 2 others, Sikia Smith and Terrell Young, were convicted of murder and got life sentences.
The victims were bound with duct tape and shot in the head during a robbery at an east Las Vegas home in August 1998. Prosecutors said Johnson, Smith and Young went to the house under the mistaken belief they would find thousands of dollars in cash and a large amount of drugs. The 3 robbers left the home with a Sony Playstation, a pager, $240 and a videocassette recorder.