Despite last year's U.S. Supreme Court decision tossing out most death sentences ordered by judges rather than juries, the Nevada Supreme Court unanimously agreed Monday that ruling shouldn't save Daryl Linnie Mack.
Mack was convicted of the 1988 rape and murder of Betty May in Reno. He wasn't caught until DNA testing was performed in 2001.
Before his trial, he told the district court he wanted to waive a jury trial and have the judge decide his guilt or innocence. He said he understood he would be also sentenced by a three-judge panel instead of the jury if the judge ruled him guilty.
The court postponed the matter to let Mack discuss his decision with a lawyerl. At the second hearing, the judge repeated that, if convicted, a three-judge panel would decide his sentence, then postponed the matter again.
The third time, the judge accepted Mack's decision to be tried without a jury.
He was convicted. The panel of judges deciding his sentence found two aggravating circumstances and ordered him executed.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June 2002 a capital sentencing procedure allowing a judge to order a death sentence violates the Sixth Amendment. In Ring v. Arizona, the high court threw out sentencing rules which deny a defendant access to a jury to decide life or death.
The Nevada court has already overturned one death sentence, agreeing the U.S. court decision bars a three-judge panel ordering death after a jury was unable to agree on a sentence. That has also been changed in Nevada law.
Mack appealed his sentence, arguing the rule should apply in his case as well.
The Nevada court disagreed, pointing out Mack deliberately waived his right to a jury trial and said on the record three different times he understood that also meant a panel of judges would decide his sentence if convicted.
"Mack did have a choice between an entire trial before a jury or one without a jury," the opinion states. "He was informed that this was his choice and no one forced him to waive his right to a jury trial."
"We conclude that Mack validly waived his right to have his sentence determined by a jury and that the three-judge panel's determination of his sentence was constitutional," the opinion states.
In addition, the court upheld Mack's death sentence saying it was not excessive. The opinion points out Mack had numerous other felony convictions including a 1994 murder.
"Mack had an extensive, ongoing criminal history, including another strangulation murder of a female victim," the opinion concludes.