Geoff Dornan

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March 6, 2014
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Prosecution in trial over woman's death calls for first-degree murder conviction

Assistant District Attorney Mark Krueger called on jurors to convict Leonardo Cardoza of first-degree murder Wednesday, saying he intentionally rammed his minivan into Desiree Bragg in a rage Jan. 26, 2013.

The prosecution gave its closing argument after a long day that began with added drama after Bragg’s long-missing fiancé was arrested in California and brought back to Carson City.

District Judge James Wilson, in an unusual move, recessed the court for the night after Krueger finished his argument. Normally, both sides present their closing statements on the same day.

When Cardoza, 28, saw the couple exit their vehicle in the driveway on Cinnabar Avenue, Krueger told jurors, “He backs up and repositions himself so the car can fit between (her vehicle) and the tree and punched it.”

Krueger said that testimony matches the preliminary hearing testimony by Bragg’s fiancé, Steven Castro, as well as Bragg’s mother and brother, who said he saw the van back up as he walked by the home’s window and seconds later felt the house shake as the vehicle crushed her against the wall outside.

Krueger said she was hit “intentionally, with deliberation and premeditation.”

“That minivan was used as a deadly weapon,” Krueger said.

Krueger also took the jury through a litany of inconsistencies in Cardoza’s statements to detectives beginning the night of the incident through his testimony this week in his own defense.

Cardoza’s statements, Krueger said, “are littered with inconsistencies” from the number of drinks he had — originally two but a dozen or more when he testified — where he did his drinking — originally Bully’s but later Bodines, the Blue Bull and Jimmy G’s — whether he hit Bragg’s car in the driveway and when he last used marijuana — two days in one statement, a decade ago in another statement.

Krueger said the case fits the elements of first-degree murder with a deadly weapon.

As the trial resumed Wednesday morning, District Attorney Neil Rombardo attempted to put Castro on the stand despite the fact Rombardo’s case closed last week. Castro had evaded subpoenas to appear and testify because of warrants accusing him of probation violations, but he was found in Yuba City, Calif., and brought back by Carson City Sheriff’s detectives late Tuesday. Rombardo wanted him to testify.

Defense counsel Jesse Kalter objected, saying that could seriously prejudice his case. He said decisions he made, including having Cardoza testify and the questions he asked his client, would have changed if Castro had testified in the prosecution case.

Kalter said Castro’s preliminary hearing testimony was read into the record already, and “I don’t see how they get to put him on again.”

Judge Wilson agreed the state had no right to completely reopen its case but said he would allow limited testimony from Castro about inconsistencies in his and Cardoza’s stories.

At that point, Kalter said that in view of Castro’s history, the court should do a quick drug test to ensure he was sober enough to testify.

Ten minutes later, the bailiff informed the court Castro had tested positive for both methamphetamine and marijuana.

A frustrated Rombardo told the court: “You know what? I’ve wasted enough time on Mr. Castro. I’ll prove my case without him.”

But the drama wasn’t quite over. Minutes later, Rombardo asked that Castro’s father, Steven Castro Sr., be removed from the court because he was acting out toward Rombardo.

Wilson called the man to the front of the court, where he asked whether Castro Sr., who had red, watery eyes, was under the influence of something.

When Wilson told him he could stay in court if he, too, took a quick drug test, Castro said, “I’ll go” and left.

The case resumes at 9 a.m. today with closing arguments from the defense.

Wilson told jurors that once the jury gets the case, it has five options: first-degree murder, second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter and acquittal.

The potential sentence for first-degree murder is life without possible parole. That drops to life with possible parole for second-degree, 10 years for voluntary manslaughter and a maximum of just four years for involuntary manslaughter.

Jurors also must decide whether to convict Cardoza on the charge of attempting to murder Castro Jr. that night.

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The Nevada Appeal Updated Jun 27, 2014 04:39PM Published Mar 6, 2014 12:35AM Copyright 2014 The Nevada Appeal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.