9th Circuit again rules orders new trial in 1995 murder



The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has again ruled Peter Quinn Elvik should get a new trial on charges he murdered a Carson City man more than 20 years ago.

Elvik was convicted of shooting William Gibson, 63, at the Carson City gun range in August 1995.

He was 14 at the time and, under the law, defendants aged 8-14 are presumed legally not to understand their actions are wrong.

Elvik’s lawyers asked for an instruction stating that but the judge refused and, on appeal, the Nevada Supreme Court upheld the conviction saying the trial court’s decision was “harmless error.”

But a three-member panel headed by U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro disagreed and threw out the conviction saying failure to give that instruction prejudiced Elvik and made it easier to convict him.

Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt took the issue all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which sent the case back to the 9th Circuit for rehearing in light of more recent rulings involving juvenile defendants.

On Tuesday, the same three-judge panel reaffirmed its original decision overturning the conviction. But, as in the first time, the decision was 2-1 with District Judge John Kronstadt dissenting.

Laxalt and his staff are reviewing the ruling. They have 14 days — until July 12 — to decide whether to continue the fight to reinstate the conviction. Their options include asking for a hearing before the full 9th Circuit Court or a direct appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

If they decide not to continue, it’s up to Carson City District Attorney Jason Woodbury to decide whether, more than 20 years later, he can put together enough evidence to retry the case and prove Elvik’s state of mind at the time. “Had the trial court given the instruction, the jury would have been required to presume that Elvik was not liable for his actions unless the government prove by clear evidence that Elvik knew (at the time he committed the crimes) that his conduct was wrong,” this week’s majority ruling states. “The trial court’s failure to give the instruction relieved the government of its burden of proving an element of the crime.”

The Attorney General’s office and Judge Kronstadt argued the record contains sufficient evidence Elvik understood what he did was wrong but the majority said the record also included evidence he didn’t understand the wrongfulness of his actions.

“Indeed the trial court did not inform the jury that acquittal under (NRS) section 194.010 was an option,” Navarro wrote. “This error was substantial and injurious to Elvik.”

Kronstadt argued in his dissent consideration of the trial record as a whole “supports the conclusion that the error did not have a substantial and injurious effect or influence on the verdict.” He pointed to the facts Elvik took the victim’s gun and briefcase, stole his car and drove to California where he hid in a motel with his girlfriend. When police arrived, he fled the scene and, after his arrest, gave a false name and at first denied any memory of the shooting.

He also pointed out Elvik was one month shy of turning 15 when the jury instruction wouldn’t have applied. He wrote a conviction can’t be overturned “on mere speculation that the defendant was prejudiced by trial error; actual prejudice must be suffered.”


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