Circuit court overturns second Reno murder conviction in a week
For the second time in less than a week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned a Washoe County murder case.
This time they reversed the 1994 conviction of Roger Chambers, ordering the state of Nevada to either release him or retry him on murder charges.
It was just last week that the same court overturned the conviction and death sentence of Ricky Sechrest, citing gross misconduct by the prosecution as well as ineffective assistance of counsel in the case. Sechrest was convicted of murdering two Sparks girls, aged 9 and 10.
Chambers was convicted of murdering Henry Chacon in a Reno motel. The two got into a fight and Chambers told police Chacon attacked him with a knife. He said he wrested it away and stabbed the victim. Both men were drunk and high at the time.
He was originally sentenced to die but the Nevada Supreme Court set that sentence aside, ordering life in prison without parole instead.
The prosecution in its closing argument called for a first degree murder conviction, saying, “Premeditation is pulling the knife, lifting our arm and stabbing. Instantaneous thoughts of the mind to control movement, that’s all you need for premeditation.”
The appellate court said that statement compounded the error in the judge’s instructions to the jury, which failed to instruct the jury in the elements of second degree murder and didn’t properly lay out the elements the jury would have to find to convict him of first degree murder.
“If anything, the evidence presented at trial seems to weigh in favor of second degree murder committed while in the throes of a heated argument,” the opinion states.
“Chambers’ federal constitutional due process right was violated by the instructions given by the trial court at his murder trial,” the opinion concludes, “as they permitted the jury to convict him of first-degree murder without finding separately all three elements of that crime: Willfulness, deliberation and premeditation.”
The court ordered that Chambers either be released from prison or retried “within a reasonable amount of time.”
Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.