The Nevada Supreme Court on Thursday upheld Christopher Fiegehen's conviction for the murder and attempted murder of his former girlfriend's parents.
Fiegehen was convicted of murdering Alan Chorkey with a knife and shooting Lorelle Chorkey twice in the chest at their Douglas County home in February 2002. He then fled Nevada, disappearing until he was caught in April by police in Vincennes, Ind.
Supreme Court justices overturned a century of Nevada case law in the decision, according to Douglas County Deputy District Attorney Mark Jackson, who prosecuted the case.
"I'm ecstatic for Lorelle Chorkey and all the family members," Jackson said. "This is a relief not just for everybody involved in the trial process, including the jurors, but for Lorelle Chorkey and Al Chorkey's relatives. They are all extremely relieved to know they can put this matter behind them and know that Christopher Fiegehen will spend the rest of his life in prison."
Fiegehen was convicted of felony murder, attempted murder and home invasion after a trial before Douglas County Judge David Gamble. He is presently serving his sentence in Lovelock.
His lawyers sought to overturn the conviction by arguing the jury failed to designate first-degree murder in the verdict. Since 1875, Nevada law states that a degree must be designated in a murder conviction or the trial is nullified.
However, a recent California Supreme Court decision, overturning that state's case law, pointed out that someone who is convicted of another crime that would enhance the murder charge, should automatically be considered guilty of first-degree murder.
"Because Fiegehen was convicted of burglary and home invasion in addition to murder, the court ruled it was automatically first-degree murder," Jackson said.
The high court, however, said the jury unquestionably found Fiegehen guilty of felony murder and that felony murder is, by definition, first-degree murder.
"Accordingly, we conclude that reversing the conviction based on the jury's failure to expressly include the works 'first-degree murder' in its verdict would merely elevate form over substance in this case," the opinion states.
The court ruled the evidence in the case overwhelming. The knife and baseball cap discovered at the scene belonged to Fiegehen and blood found in Fiegehen's car matched Alan Chorkey's DNA.
The court also pointed to evidence the victims' daughter, Alane, had ended a relationship with Fiegehen a month before the attack but he continued to contact her until she obtained a temporary protective order. She met him the night of the attack and, after they parted, called her cell phone 10 times before leaving a cryptic message on his father's phone saying good-bye.
When extradition papers were delivered to the jail in Indiana, he told the officer, "It must be for the two people I killed out there."
Fiegehen was sentenced to two consecutive life terms in Nevada prison without possible parole, two terms up to 20 years apiece for attempted murder and up to 15 years more for home invasion.
The six participating judges unanimously upheld both the conviction and Fiegehen's sentence.
n Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at email@example.com or 687-8750. Record-Courier Editor Kurt Hildebrand contributed to this story.