Court upholds murder conviction of Incline Village man
Special to the Appeal
A federal appeals court has rejected the latest petition by a Lake Tahoe art appraiser who was convicted of first degree murder for driving his truck off a mountain road, killing his wife, in Washoe County.
A Washoe County judge sentenced Peter M. Bergna to 20 years to life in June 2002 in the death of his wife, Rinette Rinella Bergna. His truck plunged 800 feet down Slide Mountain.
Bergna of Incline Village maintained it was an accident when the truck went through a guard rail on State Route 431 in 1998.
The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Thursday rejected his claim there wasn’t enough evidence to convict him.
The court said the jury heard evidence Bergna could’ve avoided the crash near the Mount Rose Ski Resort. “It was unlikely Bergna was naturally ejected from the vehicle before it plunged down the cliff.”
The court said the evidence showed Bergna was wearing extra clothing to cushion his fall after he was ejected 80 feet after the truck went over the cliff.
The evidence at trial showed the seat belt on the passenger’s side was turned off. And Bergna confessed his murder to a jail house informant.
The court also rejected his claim the trial should’ve been moved out of Reno because of pretrial publicity. He submitted 66 news stories about the incident to the trial.
The court said there was “no barrage of inflammatory publicity” and there was no showing any of the jurors were prejudiced against him.