Defendant in quadruple Vegas homicide gets new trial
December 23, 2004
One of two defendants in a quadruple homicide won a new trial Friday in a Supreme Court opinion that blamed the judge for not granting Terrell Cochise Young a new lawyer.
Young and Donte Johnson were convicted of murdering four people in Las Vegas in August 1998. Johnson received a death sentence for the execution-style slaying of four young men during what started as an attempted robbery of cash and drugs. Young was sentenced to multiple terms of life in prison without possible parole for murder, robbery, kidnapping and other felonies.
Young’s appellate lawyers called for a new trial saying Young had made a repeated and strong case to replace his lawyer but was ignored by Senior District Judge Joseph Pavlikowski.
The high court agreed there was a complete collapse of any relationship between the defendant and his appointed trial lawyer Lew Wolfbrandt. The court pointed out that Young had asked for new lawyers on five separate occasions before the trial ever started, complaining that Wolfbrandt hadn’t even been to see him during the eight months before trial.
“Young questioned how his counsel could be ready for trial when he had never even had a conversation with Wolfbrandt about the trial,” the opinion states.
Despite all his complaints and his accusations that Wolfbrandt was ineffective, lazy and unprofessional, Pavlikowski refused to replace the lawyer.
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The Nevada Supreme Court ruled that denial a fatal error to the case, citing a U.S. Supreme Court case which stated that, “if the complete collapse of the attorney-client relationship is evident, a refusal to substitute counsel violates a defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights,”
Six members of the Nevada court – except for Mark Gibbons who recused himself – agreed the district judge abused his discretion in denying Young’s repeated motions for a new lawyer and ruled the violation was so prejudicial it warrants a new trial.
Johnson is on death row, appealing his sentence.
Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.