An attempt by convicted Carson City murderer Peter Elvik to win a new trial on the basis of poor legal representation was denied Friday by District Judge Michael Griffin.
The decision comes nearly three months after a post conviction hearing in Griffin's district courtroom. Through Las Vegas-attorney Thomas C. Michaelides, Elvik, 19, challenged the legality of his 1996 conviction.
In August, 1995, at the age of 14, Elvik murdered 63-year-old William Gibson at the Carson City Rifle Range. Elvik admitted he walked from his grandparents house that day armed with a shotgun. At the range he shot Gibson multiple times, stealing his truck and driving to his home in Tustin, Calif.
When police caught up with him, he admitted his crimes during an interrogation.
After his arrest, Elvik was represented by public defenders James Jackson and Diane Crow until Reno attorney Scott Freeman was retained by members of Elvik's family for the trial.
The first conviction was challenged and upheld by the Nevada Supreme Court.
Six allegations of "ineffective assistance of counsel" were submitted for Griffin's consideration over the two-day hearing. After testimony by three defense attorneys, Griffin asked for written closing arguments.
Michaelides contended poor attorney representation in the following areas:
- Jackson's advice to enter a guilty plea was improper.
In his ruling, Griffin wrote, "Mr. Jackson felt that a plea of guilty would at least allow him to be considered for less than the maximum sentence and give him hope for release.
"It is the court's opinion that the substance of Mr. Jackson's advice was correct."
- Freeman should have requested a change of venue.
Griffin ruled that "he felt he would get a fair jury in Carson City" and "it was not apparent at the time of the (seating of a jury) that a change of venue was necessary in the case."
- Freeman did not present psychological evidence about Elvik's mental unbalance.
"Mr. Freeman was aware that he had difficulty in presenting his defense in front of a jury that would focus solely on the cold-blooded nature of this murder," Griffin wrote.
"Mr. Freeman was afraid that if there was a discussion of the defendant's mental state, the state of Nevada would clearly establish that Elvik had no serious mental condition which negated criminal responsibility."
- Freeman did not introduce evidence that the defendant was under the influence of LSD.
Griffin ruled that the only statement that referenced the alleged drug use was to police shortly after his arrest. "In contrast to this statement, the defense counsel testified that Elvik told him that he had not taken LSD at the time of the murder."
- Statements made to police by Elvik after his arrest were not suppressed.
Griffin ruled that "every aspect of those statements was explored" and that they were made voluntarily.
- Elvik was visible in handcuffs and ankle chains as he was being transferred from the police car to the court.
"No evidence ever indicated that any of the jurors had actually seen Elvik in restraints," Griffin wrote.
Elvik claimed self-defense at his jury trial. He argued that he held the man up, attempting to steal his car. When the man reached for a gun, Elvik claimed, he shot him.
Elvik will be eligible for parole at age 64.