Court tosses 20-year-old sexual assault conviction
The Nevada Supreme Court threw out a 20-year-old sexual assault conviction Thursday, saying Donald George was unfairly denied his appeal and trial transcripts to prepare that appeal.
George, 54, was convicted of six counts of sexual assault and five counts of lewdness with an 11-year-old girl in 1985. He is serving six consecutive life sentences, plus sentences for the lewdness counts.
After conviction, he immediately filed a proper person notice of appeal.
But since that was done before he was sentenced, the Clark County District Court didn’t transmit the appeal to the Supreme Court.
He also filed, without a lawyer’s help, a motion to get transcripts from the trial to prepare his appeal. The Clark County District Attorney opposed the motion and the transcripts were never prepared.
Then, in 1987, the district court granted Clark County’s petition to destroy the trial exhibits including the sexual assault kit, effectively eliminating the physical evidence in the case.
In addition, the trial transcripts were destroyed.
While George kept fighting his conviction, he did so without a lawyer until 2002, when he petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of habeas corpus arguing his right of appeal was denied. When the Supreme Court discovered his 1985 appeal notice was never transmitted, the justices ordered appointment of an appeal lawyer.
In Thursday’s opinion, Justices Bill Maupin, Jim Hardesty and Mark Gibbons ruled the notice of appeal should have been transmitted to the high court and, because the district court failed to do so, George still has a right to an appeal.
Citing a U.S. Supreme Court ruling from 1971, the justices also clarified Nevada law saying “the state must provide an indigent defendant with a transcript of prior proceedings when the defendant needs the transcript for an effective appeal.”
But since those transcripts and evidence have long since been destroyed, they said that is now impossible in this case.
Therefore, they ruled the only remedy is to grant a new trial.
A spokesman for the Clark County district attorney’s office said they must now review the case to decide whether there is enough other evidence to conduct a new trial. But the spokesman said after 20 years, it may be very difficult to retry the case.
— Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at email@example.com or 687-8750.