Supreme Court rejects petition in Reno murder case

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The Nevada Supreme Court has refused to overturn a conviction and death sentence imposed on Avram Nika.

He was convicted of the August 1994 murder of a Reno man who stopped along Interstate 80 to help him after his car broke down. The victim, Edward Smith, suffered three skull fractures and a bullet wound to the forehead.

Nika was arrested five days later in Chicago driving Smith's BMW.

After his conviction, he petitioned the court arguing his counsel was ineffective during trial. The Supreme Court granted him an evidentiary hearing into his claims, which concluded his trial lawyer was not ineffective.

He petitioned again arguing the prosecution withheld information about an agreement with a jailhouse informant who testified Nika had admitted the killing.

When that petition was rejected, he filed another version raising a laundry list of complaints including that jury instructions in his trial were faulty and that there were numerous errors in his penalty hearing.

The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday there were no serious flaws in the jury instructions because the new rule he said wasn't properly applied didn't exist until after Nika's case was decided.

Five members of the court rejected all of Nika's claims for relief. But two justices, Michael Cherry and Nancy Saitta, filed a dissenting opinion. They agreed with the majority in rejecting Nika's claims the guilty verdict should be thrown out. But they said they would grant him a new penalty hearing because of several problems which, taken together, prejudiced Nika at sentencing. Among those is that he is from Romania and spoke very limited English at the time.

The high court granted a new penalty hearing in a Las Vegas death sentence case.

Edward Lee Jones was convicted of the 1991 death of his girlfriend Pamela Williams. She was stabbed 36 times with a butcher knife.

The justices unanimously agreed that Jones was not properly represented by counsel during his penalty hearing. They cited numerous examples of prosecutorial misconduct during closing argument, arguing facts that weren't in evidence including that the victim " Jones' girlfriend " begged for her life and that her son was traumatized by seeing her body.

"These egregious instances of prosecutorial misconduct occurred throughout the penalty phase closing argument," the court wrote.

Yet the defense lawyer made no objections. In addition, the defense conducted no investigation to counter prosecution arguments calling for a death sentence.

"Because Jones was prejudiced by counsels omissions, we conclude that he is entitled to a new penalty hearing," they concluded.

Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at or 687-8750.


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