RENO — A jury has reordered the execution of a three-time murderer who has been on death row in Nevada for 34 years for killings in three states.
Jurors in Reno deliberated about three hours after a weeklong resentencing hearing before rejecting a bid by 67-year-old Tracy Petrocelli’s lawyers to let him serve life without parole.
“The appropriate penalty for Mr. Petrocelli is that he die in prison. Why is that not enough?” public defender Jay Slocum asked during closing arguments.
Petrocelli stood from his wheelchair but showed no reaction to the unanimous verdict in support of his execution.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld Petrocelli’s murder conviction two years ago in the fatal shooting of Reno car dealership owner James Wilson in 1982.
But the court ordered a new sentencing hearing, ruling that Petrocelli should have had his lawyer present and been read his Miranda rights when a psychiatrist who testified for the prosecution at that trial interviewed him in jail.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Luke Prengaman told jurors that Petrocelli may be older now, but he’s the same evil man who fatally shot three people in the head.
Petrocelli also was convicted of killing his 18-year-old girlfriend, Melanie Barker, in Seattle in the months before Wilson was slain, and 30-year-old Dennis Gibson, whose body was found near Barstow, California, in 1981.
“Is he less responsible for killing Mr. Wilson because time has passed?” Prengaman asked. “He deserved the death penalty when he committed that third murder, and he deserves it today.”
Petrocelli has filed multiple appeals since he was sent to death row in 1985. Nevada has not executed anyone since 2006.
His case produced a precedent-setting Nevada Supreme Court standard regarding the admissibility of evidence of past bad acts when a defendant faces charges for a new crime.
Pre-trial “Petrocelli hearings” are now common in Nevada for judges to determine if a jury will be allowed to hear such evidence under special circumstances.
Petrocelli’s link to the courtroom standard had no direct bearing on his resentencing.
His lawyers characterized him as a changed man in failing health who has a history of good behavior during his 37 years at the Ely State Prison near the Utah line.
“People are capable of change, and Tracy is such a person,” public defender Jaclyn Millsap told the jury. “Do not sentence him to die.”
Petrocelli told jurors on Wednesday that he took responsibility for the killings and the “horrible sorrow I’ve caused everyone.”
“For 37 years, I have cried, not for me, but for my victims and their families,” Petrocelli said. “I have felt the pain of my actions for 13,555 days and will continue to do so until my last breath.”
Prengaman dismissed Petrocelli as a “con man,” not a repentant man.
The prosecutor said Petrocelli’s pain was “not for the victims in this case,” but “for himself. He wishes he wasn’t in prison.”