Biela gets life prison on top of death row
Associated Press Writer
RENO – An ex-Marine and pipefitter already on his way to Nevada’s death row death for the murder of a 19-year-old college coed was sentenced to four additional life prison terms on Friday on charges tied to sexual assaults on two other young women.
James Biela, 29, was convicted in June of strangling Brianna Denison and jurors voted unanimously to execute him by lethal injection.
Washoe County District Judge Robert Perry on Friday added the four life terms – to be served consecutively – for the rape of Denison and two other women and the kidnapping of one of them.
“Not only were these people terrorized, but the community was terrorized,” the judge said. “My first concern is the safety of the community.”
The string of crimes around the University of Nevada, Reno campus began in October 2007 and culminated in Denison’s death in early 2008.
Perry imposed the maximum sentences at the urging of one of the victims, who gave emotional testimony concerning Biela’s October 2007 rape of her at gunpoint in a UNR parking garage.
The woman said while she has since gone on to graduate from UNR, get married and become pregnant with her first child, the sexual assault has “killed the trusting, vivacious woman I was.” Only her Christian faith has helped her deal with the “actions of evil” she was subjected to, she added.
Biela looked down throughout her testimony and avoided eye contact.
“Mr. Biela, I wish you would look at me,” she said. “Despite the fact you committed the most unforgivable act, I forgive you for everything you put me through. I pray you find peace with God because he’s the only one who can save you.”
Perry said he would sign the formal death warrant and set the date for Biela’s execution by Aug. 16. That will trigger an automatic appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court.
Deputy District Attorney Elliott Sattler said during the 30-minute hearing on Friday that the additional maximum sentences were needed to guard against the chance that the death penalty is overturned on appeal.
“One never knows what will happen to the death penalty,” Sattler said after the hearing. “But I have no reason to believe he’ll ever be released from the Nevada state prison system.”
In the event the death penalty is thrown out, Biela would have to serve a minimum of 36 years in prison on the other charges before he would be considered for parole, Sattler said. Each of the three sexual assault charges carries a minimum of 10 years and the kidnapping charge five years. One of the attacks also carries at least one additional year for use of a gun.
Biela’s public defender asked that the sentences run concurrently.
The other rape victim chose not to testify because she wants to put the case behind her, Sattler said, adding she has returned to her native Taiwan. She was sexually assaulted in December 2007 after being abducted from near the UNR campus.
Biela and Denison’s mother, Bridgette Denison, also declined to testify Friday.
Denison, a sophomore at Santa Barbara City College in California, was home visiting friends when she was kidnapped in January 2008 while sleeping on a friend’s couch near the UNR campus. Her body, clothed only in socks, was found in a vacant Reno lot less than a month later with two pair of thong underwear.
Detectives said it was the work of a serial rapist who stalked petite women and had a fetish for thong underwear.
Before imposing the sentences, Perry acknowledged Biela’s abusive childhood. Beila grew up in poverty in a household where his father regularly beat his mother.
“It’s an obligation to play with the cards we’re dealt with,” the judge told Biela.
Sattler said it also was important to give Biela the maximum sentence on each charge to honor each victim.
“You probably have to know he’s one of the most dangerous people you could ever have before you,” Sattler told the judge. “He’s one of the worst of the worst.”