The murder case of Leonardo Cardoza is headed back to Carson District Court one more time.
But this time, he will be sentenced by Judge Todd Russell instead of James Wilson.
Cardoza was originally convicted of first degree murder in the death of Desiree Bragg, who was crushed against the front of her mother’s north Carson City home by Cardoza’s minivan in 2013. But that sentence was overturned by the Nevada Supreme Court, which said Wilson failed to properly define the elements of first degree murder.
After negotiations with Carson District Attorney Jason Woodbury, Cardoza agreed to plead guilty to second degree murder. But during his October sentencing, Wilson again ordered a life sentence, saying in his mind, the killing was premeditated.
The problem is premeditation isn’t one of the elements of second degree murder. Premeditation is the key difference between first and second degree murder.
In addition, court rules state the judge who accepts the guilty plea should sentence the defendant. When Cardoza’s plea agreement was presented, Wilson was unavailable and Russell accepted his plea.
Cardoza’s lawyer Allison Joffee moved for reconsideration and to have the case transferred to another judge.
“He had his mind made up before,” she said after the October hearing and pointed out the life sentence was more severe than the 10-25 years the prosecution recommended.
Wilson responded with an order saying he misspoke during the October sentencing but it was an innocent error. He said, however, that raises the possibility a reasonable person could question whether his sentencing decision was based on the belief the murder was premeditated.
But he said the crime left a 5-month-old baby motherless, which outweighs the good behavior and progress Cardoza has made in prison.
“Based on that analysis, I continue to believe the life sentence is the appropriate sentence,” he wrote. “So I cannot in good conscience amend the sentence to the 25-year term.”
He said his other option is to vacate the sentence and transfer the case to Russell’s court, which he did.
Russell hasn’t yet set a new sentencing date.