In a town with an average of fewer than one homicide a year, another murder case in Carson City has been delayed as prosecutors await a Supreme Court ruling.
The murder trial of Anthony Echols, accused of gunning down Carson City contractor Richard Albrecht in his home in August 2000, was delayed for the fourth time Tuesday in anticipation of a Supreme Court ruling on whether prosecutors can apply the felony murder rule to the case.
The case was set for trial March 18, but has been delayed until July 24.
Under Nevada's felony murder statute, murder committed in the course of other felonies such as burglary automatically becomes first-degree murder.
The prosecution argues Echols entered Albrecht's home and shot him to death. The entry into the home to commit the murder is considered felony burglary and therefore the felony murder rule applies.
A wait for the Supreme Court's ruling is also the basis for a delay in a trial for the Sammy Resendiz killing of August 1998. In the Resendiz case, 10 defendants are accused of entering a motel room and beating Resendiz to death with pipes, bats and clubs.
On March 1, 2000, Judge Michael Fondi dismissed the first-degree murder charge in the Resendiz case which District Attorney Noel Waters appealed to the Supreme Court. In the Echols case, Judge William Maddox dismissed the felony murder charge on April 22, 2000, because of the outstanding appeal in the Supreme Court. That dismissal, too, was appealed.
Oral arguments in the Resendiz dismissal were heard on Oct. 15, 2001.
"We really need to get a decision out on this," Chief Deputy District Attorney Anne Langer said Tuesday of the frozen murder cases on the Carson City docket.
Opponents of the felony murder rule argue if applied, prosecutors only have to prove a burglary was committed, thus alleviating the challenge of proving premeditation and intent.
Waters told the Supreme Court in October that Nevada law allows a murder during commission of another felony to be treated as first-degree murder. He urged the court to overturn Fondi's decision and restore the charges against the 10 to first-degree murder rather than overturn Nevada's felony murder law.
"Nearly every one of the felony murder categories has an assaultive component," he said, adding that changing the standard would open the door to reducing charges in other cases such as felony murder-rape.
"This takes away everything the Legislature tries to do in that category," he said.
"Are we going to judicially change the law in the state of Nevada, or is the Supreme Court going to say the law is sufficiently clear?" Waters asked Tuesday.
The 10 defendants in the Resendiz case are Rocky Boice Jr., Julian Contreras, Lew Dutchy, Clint Malone, Frederick Fred, Jessica Evans, Jaron Malone, Elvin Fred, Sylvia Fred and Michael Kizer. Two of the original defendants, Alejandro Avila and David Moyle, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit battery with a deadly weapon.
Echols faces a maximum two life sentences and 30 years imprisonment on the charge of killing of Carson City contractor Albrecht, 46, who was gunned down Aug. 5, 2000, at his Firebox Road home.
Prosecutors allege Echols entered Albrecht's home and fired two shots, killing him.
Earlier that day, Echols was in the Carson City Jail on charges he violated a restraining order requiring him to keep away from his estranged wife. The murder happened less than 1-1/2 hours after Echols' release from jail on bail.
Echols' motivation for the murder, prosecutors say, was his belief his estranged wife Karen and Albrecht were involved in a relationship. Albrecht's family has maintained the relationship was a friendship.