Jury hands down toughest sentence

Cathy Atchian, sister of Rick Albrecht, cries after the sentence was imposed on Tony Echols Thursday afternoon. Photo by Brian Corley

Cathy Atchian, sister of Rick Albrecht, cries after the sentence was imposed on Tony Echols Thursday afternoon. Photo by Brian Corley

After a morning of emotional testimony, a jury Thursday sentenced Tony Echols to spend the remainder of his life behind bars for the killing of a Carson City contractor two years ago.

Echols, 41, stood stoically as the verdict of life in prison without possibility of parole was read.

Earlier, a tearful Echols spoke to the family of his victim, Rick Albrecht.

"I'm so sorry for what happened. I wish I could give you back your son, your brother, your dad and your grandfather," he said. "I pray for your family every day. I pray for God's peace. I pray that you can be released from any of the anger that you feel and know that one day you will be with Rick again."

Echols claimed the shooting of Albrecht, 46, who he believed was having an affair with his wife, was an accident.

Albrecht died in his home from two gunshot wounds to the head fired from a .22-caliber Ruger rifle.

In court Thursday morning, Albrecht's family told the jury of their loss.

"When my dad died I was 20 years old," Laurie Albrecht Coombs said tearfully. "He was not there to see me get married or to walk me down the aisle or to dance with me at my wedding. My children will not know their grandfather."

Coombs said she, her sister and brother were brought up by a dad who scheduled "never-ending excursions into the wilderness" every weekend, and talked of her father's devotion to her sister who suffers from epilepsy.

After her father's death, she said, her brother walked her down the aisle at her wedding and finished the home her father had been building.

"I miss his smile. I miss his laugh. I miss his voice. But most of all, I miss his hugs," she said.

Albrecht's younger sister, Cathy Atchian, looked at Echols directly as she spoke.

"I always taught my kids that their home was their safe place -- but Tony Echols proved me wrong," she said.

"When Tony Echols cries for his son, he cries because of a choice he made. When my mother cries for her son, she just cries, Tony! She just cries!" Atchian shouted at Echols.

Echols' mother, Pat Echols, apologized to the Albrecht family. "The worst thing that could happen is the loss of a child; the second-worse thing that can happen is that your child is responsible," she said.

Pat Echols, 59, said her son was not a danger. She asked the jury to sentence him to life with parole, which would mean he could possibly be free in 40 years.

"I will never live to see him come out," she said. "At 40 years, he will probably die in there. It makes no sense to give him life without parole.

"He was a good person. He went to church; he believed in God, he was a good father -- he lived for his son," she said.

After the hearing, jury forewoman Juanita Lennon, 23, said she initially wanted to offer Echols "at least that tiny bit of hope" of gaining parole, but her fellow jurors didn't.

"I think that he was pushed to his limits, and anybody can be," she said.

A certified nursing assistant and mother of three, Lennon said the trial was more emotional than she'd expected. At nights, she'd go home and imagine what Albrecht had gone through.

Still, Lennon said, she wasn't convinced when deliberations began that Echols was guilty of first-degree murder.

"I thought involuntary manslaughter because that's a heat-of-passion type of thing," she said, her eyes red from crying. "But then the others would point out that he had time to think."

The jury on Wednesday had deliberated less than three hours before finding him guilty of first-degree murder and burglary. It took about 2 1/2 hours on Thursday to decide his sentence.

"Unless there is a stipulation before the trial, in a first-degree murder case the jury can sentence the defendant," explained Chief Deputy District Attorney Anne Langer, who prosecuted the case.

Because the crime was committed with a deadly weapon, the sentence was automatically doubled under Nevada law.

District Judge Bill Maddox also sentenced Echols to 24 to 120 months in prison on the burglary charge, to be served concurrently.

Nevada law defines burglary as entry into a building with the intent to commit a felony such as assault or battery. Echols, a maintenance supervisor for the Reno Hilton, was charged with first-degree murder because the killing was committed during the course of a burglary. That is automatically first-degree murder, according to a Nevada Supreme Court ruling.


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