Accused cop-killer faces death penalty in Reno trial

RENO -- Attorney Kenneth McKenna says it's a miracle that Larry Peck survived a bullet-punctured siege in which Reno Police Officer John Bohach was shot to death during a standoff outside Peck's home.

He says it will take another miracle to save his client again when Peck goes on trial starting Monday.

District Attorney Richard Gammick says Peck has run out of miracles and deserves to die.

Peck, who was outspoken in his hatred for police, was pulled over for erratic driving the morning of Aug. 22, 2001. He sped off and fled to his home, which was quickly surrounded by police.

Within the first half hour of the standoff, Peck had fired two shots from a high-powered rifle. A third shot minutes later hit Bohach, 35, in the chest as he crouched behind a delivery truck.

Neither side in the case questions who fired the fatal round. But the defense says there is no proof it was aimed to kill.

McKenna contends that experts who have studied the trajectories of more than 100 bullets fired cannot say whether the fatal round was fired through a window, a wall or a door.

"They do not have the ability to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it was something other than just a warning shot fired in Larry Peck's delusional state trying to get the police to go away."

The district attorney doesn't see it that way.

"If Mr. Peck had decided not to pull the trigger, then Officer Bohach would not have been killed," Gammick said.

Two witnesses expected to be called by prosecutors testified in a pretrial hearing that Peck despised police.

Carol Coleman said she was selling Peck drugs in a downtown casino parking area in 2001 when a police car turned into the lot.

She said he pulled a handgun out of his jacket pocket and put it on his lap.

"He said he hated (expletive) cops," she said. "He said he would take a cop down before he would go back to prison."

Peck, 54, has a record of drug-related convictions.

At the same hearing, Mark Seydel said he knew Peck had armor-piercing bullets and at least one high-powered rifle.

"He thought he was going to have to fight off the government," he said.

Peck's home was surrounded by cyclone fence and had planters strategically placed to stop bullets and slow invaders. It had surveillance cameras.

When police searched the home after Peck's arrest, authorities found the assault rifle, two bolt-action rifles, a shotgun, handguns and tear gas masks.

"This guy was prepared to go to war," Deputy Reno Police Chief Jim Weston said.

McKenna said Peck had been out all night drinking before he was pulled over and claims his client is a different person when he's drunk from when he's sober.

On Thursday night -- four days into the trial -- Peck will take part in a "chemically facilitated interview." He will get drunk while his words and actions are evaluated by a psychiatrist.

"The way to save Larry Peck's life -- to avoid the death penalty -- is for the jury to absolutely understand the effects of alcohol on him so they're able to understand what was going on in his mind, his perspective," McKenna said.

The district attorney was not convinced: "Are we going to say the alcohol caused him to pull the trigger?"

Peck is due back in court Friday morning. Washoe District Judge Brent Adams said a defendant's condition is the responsibility of his attorneys, not the court.

McKenna also plans to call witnesses to testify about police procedures during the half hour before the fatal shooting.

"During that 30 minutes, the police did everything exactly wrong. They did exactly the opposite of what their own procedures are for a barricaded subject who has fired shots."

McKenna said they should have evacuated the area and left Peck alone until a trained negotiator could arrive.

Instead, he said an officer -- not Bohach -- with little experience in negotiations continued yelling demands at Peck and insisting that he surrender, "ratcheting up" a situation involving a delusional person.

Gammick said the evidence would show "police were in the process of bringing in a negotiator and were holding off at the time that Mr. Peck decided to pull the trigger."

Once Bohach was hit, McKenna said it was amazing that Peck survived.

"The SWAT team fired over 100 rounds in at him. It's a miracle that he lived through that barrage of police fire.

"Five hours later, he tried to surrender. He opened the front door and six rounds were fired directly at him with an automatic rifle and missed.

"What I'm looking for is a third miracle -- for the jury to spare his life."

He expects jury selection to take two to three days because of the news coverage of the case and because a police officer was involved.

He also said some potential jurors may have had their lives affected by alcoholism or may be preoccupied by having a close friend or loved one involved in the Iraq war.

"I don't think it's going to be easy for a jury," he said.


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