Agreeing with defense lawyers that the district judge made numerous serious errors in the trial of a Las Vegas man, the Nevada Supreme court Monday threw out his murder conviction and ordered a new trial.
Dorion Daniel was convicted of two counts of murder and two of attempted murder. After the jury was unable to decide on a penalty, he was sentenced to death by a three- judge panel.
"The district court erred in meeting privately with a state witness without making a record of the meeting, in answering questions from the jury without notifying counsel, and without making a record of the answers given, in allowing questioning regarding appellant's prior arrests, in limiting appellant's presentation of evidence regarding the violent character of the victims, and in not allowing questioning of a juror about possible prejudice against appellant," according to the opinion signed by all seven members of the court.
"Due to the quantity and character of this cumulative error and the gravity of the crime charged and the penalty sought, we reverse appellant's judgment of conviction," it concludes.
Daniel had completed a federal prison sentence stemming from a drug-dealing charge just 90 days before he stormed into a Las Vegas apartment and killed Mark Payne and Frederick Washington, prosecutors said. Terhain Woods and Antoine Hall also were shot, but survived by pretending to be dead.
During Daniel's trial, prosecutors said that shortly before the shooting Daniel had argued with Woods and Washington over $10 he had demanded, apparently to buy drugs. Prosecutors also said Daniel may have thought Washington was involved in the murder of one of his friends.
When a key witness for the prosecution attempted to take the Fifth Amendment, Judge Donald Mosley took him in chambers without allowing either lawyer to attend and without recording what happened. When they returned to court, the witness agreed to testify.
Mosley also handled two key questions from jurors without informing lawyers for either side. The jury wanted to know whether a hung jury in the penalty phase meant that everything they had done doesn't count, and whether a 40-year sentence actually meant the defendant would serve 40 years.
The court objected both to the fact that lawyers weren't told beforehand and that Mosley had his bailiff answer the questions verbally instead of having the judge put the answers in writing. As a result, the opinion states, there's no way to know exactly what the jury was told.
After being informed the conviction would stand, but that a three-judge panel would take over the penalty phase if the jury couldn't decide, the panel declared itself deadlocked.
The court ruled the judge made several other errors that appeared to favor the prosecution and deny the defendant a fair trial.
The ruling sends Mosley's case back to Clark County for a new trial.