Defense attorney Craig Creel told the Nevada Supreme Court on Monday the handling of Margaret Rudin's murder trial was "the singular worst example of a criminal trial I have ever seen."
Rudin, 60, was convicted in 2001 of first-degree murder in the Las Vegas shooting death of her husband, Ronald, in 1994 and sentenced to life with possible parole. The trial gained national attention. Rudin lived under assumed names in Mexico and Phoenix before she was arrested in a Boston suburb in November 1999.
Creel said the conviction should be overturned because of the performance of defense attorney Michael Amador, the conduct of prosecutors and of District Judge Joe Bonaventure. He said his appeal brief listed 27 separate errors, any one of which would justify a new trial.
He said Amador began the case with a rambling opening argument that had little bearing on the case. He said the attorney wasn't prepared for trial, hadn't read discovery materials, had no witness list and hadn't spoken with prosecution witnesses as of two weeks before trial.
In addition, he said the defense was seeing prosecution evidence for the first time in the morning and being forced to cross examine witnesses that afternoon with no time for analysis or investigation and that the prosecution made statements in its opening arguments which were not supported by facts.
He objected to a discussion in chambers between the judge and defendant, with neither lawyer present, about her concerns her lawyer wasn't doing the job properly.
And he questioned how what were originally described as "bullet fragments" suddenly became identifiable projectiles a few years later.
"What transpired here was just a disaster," he said.
But Chris Owens of the Clark County District Attorney's office said the trial lasted 10 weeks, that there was discovery and that Amador presented and argued pretrial motions. He said the judge met with the defendant with the consent of both sides to discuss her lawyer's performance.
He said Bonaventure "bent over backward" for the defense, giving them time to review materials, call expert witnesses and develop their case. He said they were up against strong evidence of Rudin's guilt but that the defense did a reasonable job of defending her.
That evidence, he said, included "unique" marks on the bullet fragments that tied it to a gun owned by Rudin's husband. That gun was found in a lake several years after the murder.
"This was vigorously defended," he said of the case.
Justice Bob Rose too questioned Amador's handling of the case, saying he "rambled three and a half hours" in his opening statement.
And Rose questioned whether Amador had a conflict in having a contract for media rights to the story of Rudin's case.
"Here it seems to me Mr. Amador had considerable conflict," he said. "He showed much more interest in getting the media coverage than handling the trial."
Creel said the picture painted by the prosecutor's office now is much different than during the trial when he quoted the prosecutor as saying "we have a terrible, terrible record."
"We're very concerned about the record we have before the court," Creel quoted prosecutors as saying during a discussion of a motion for mistrial. "All we can do is ask the court to protect the state's rights under the constitution."
Bonaventure denied two separate motions for a mistrial.