Death sentence reinstated for 1996 murder | NevadaAppeal.com

Death sentence reinstated for 1996 murder

The Nevada Supreme Court took the unusual step Wednesday of reinstating a death sentence earlier overturned by a district court.

Michael Joseph Mulder was convicted by a Las Vegas jury of murdering John Ahard, 77, in July 1996 and stealing his car and a number of other items. The victim was found dead in his home, his hands and ankles bound with duct tape. His cheekbone was crushed and he suffered a skull fracture which extended from the front of his face around to the back, base of the skull.

Mulder’s fingerprints were on the duct tape.

On review of the case, the district court threw out the death sentence ruling that two of the four aggravating circumstances supporting it were invalid.

The high court this week agreed those two aggravators based on the robbery and burglary committed during the crime were invalid. But the court order says that doesn’t mean the jury verdict ordering death isn’t legally supported by the facts of the case.

The justices concluded that the other two aggravating circumstances – both involving prior violent robbery convictions by Mulder – are valid and that no mitigating circumstances to weigh against them were presented in the case.

“The state relied heavily on those aggravators in the penalty phase, contending that the victim’s murder was the culmination of an increasingly violent criminal career,” the order states.

“Therefore, we conclude that the jury would have found Mulder to be death eligible based on those two remaining aggravators.”

Secondly, the court concluded jurors would have imposed the death sentence in the case “because the facts of this crime are particularly heinous and involve the robbery and brutal murder of an elderly victim.”

The justices voted unanimously – with Justice Michael Cherry recused from the case – to reinstate the death sentence for Mulder, who is housed at the Ely maximum security prison.