Court decision may free Reno woman | NevadaAppeal.com

Court decision may free Reno woman

BRENDAN RILEY

Associated Press

A Reno woman may be immediately eligible for parole after her second-degree murder conviction for not protecting her infant son from his abusive father was overturned by the Nevada Supreme Court.

The high court on Monday reversed a split 1996 state Supreme Court decision that upheld the conviction of Kriseya Labastida, 32, who was sentenced to life in prison. Her 7-week-old boy was killed by Michael Strawser in 1992.

National and state groups for abused women and child abuse victims supported Labastida’s lawyers as they sought Monday’s ruling.

A 20-year term for felony child neglect was left intact by the Supreme Court, but Labastida has already spent eight years behind bars and may be immediately eligible for parole.

Medical witnesses testified during Labastida’s trial that the child’s body was covered with abrasions, bite marks and fractured bones. But Labastida testified that she did not know about the father’s violence.

Defense lawyers maintained the mother was trapped in an abusive relationship with Strawser, who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and testified that he went to great lengths to keep his abuse and actual murder of the baby a secret from Labastida. Strawser is now serving a lifetime prison term without a chance at parole.

After losing her earlier Supreme Court appeal, Labastida sought a rehearing on grounds the high court misconstrued state law on second-degree murder and erred when it ruled in 1996 that there was enough evidence to convict her.

In the latest, unanimous opinion, the court said the law and the evidence ”do not support a finding that Labastida directly committed acts or aided and abetted Strawser in the commission of acts so as to warrant her conviction of second-degree murder.”

”With hindsight, one can say she should have known that her son was in mortal danger, but that is not the same as finding that she actually knew, which is the finding necessary to support a conviction for aiding and abetting murder,” the justices wrote.

They said their earlier ruling improperly assumed Labastida could have been convicted of first-degree murder and that the second-degree murder finding reflected ”a desire for leniency.”

Richard Cornell, representing the National Association of Victims of Child Abuse Laws and the Nevada Committee to Aid Abused Women, had joined in the appeal.

Cornell said the ruling corrected ”some fundamental inconsistencies,” adding that ”to proceed on a theory of aiding and abetting simply by being there was contrary to the law in this state and every other state.”