Judge changes charges in murder trial | NevadaAppeal.com

Judge changes charges in murder trial

Geoff Dornan, Appeal Capitol Bureau

District Judge Mike Griffin Friday granted a motion to amend the charges against Rocky Boice Jr. to formally remove language requiring prosecutors to prove premeditation and malice in a 1998 fatal beating.

Griffin’s decision, with which defense attorneys agreed, came as the lawyers and judge began the process of working out instructions to be given to the jury before it begins deliberations.

The prosecution rested its case Friday. Attorneys’ closing arguments are set to begin Tuesday. The final language in the jury instructions will be ironed out Monday in a hearing before Griffin.

District Attorney Noel Waters moved Friday to amend the first-degree murder charge against Rocky Boice Jr. to specify “felony murder.”

The charges in the case originally included first-degree murder under both the open-murder and felony-murder statutes. The amendment eliminates the “open murder” argument.

The difference is an open-murder conviction requires the prosecution to prove both malice and premeditation. Felony murder requires only that the state prove the murder occurred during the commission of one of several specific lesser crimes — in this case burglary.

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Defense attorney Laurence Lichter agreed the change would simplify instructions to the jury, which he and Griffin said were rapidly becoming quite complex. Felony murder has been the prosecution’s main argument since charges were filed.

The original charges were at one point reduced to second-degree murder after then District Judge Mike Fondi agreed with defense lawyers the first degree charge was a misinterpretation of the law and prosecutors should not be allowed to get around proving premeditation and malice by charging felony murder.

The Nevada Supreme Court, however, disagreed and reinstated the felony murder charges against Boice and the others.

The big choice facing jurors is whether to find Boice guilty or innocent on grounds his actions were in self defense.

If they find him guilty, they will have several options other than first-degree murder.

Jurors could find Boice guilty of second-degree felony murder or they could decide the evidence supports a conviction for voluntary manslaughter.

If they convict Boice, the panel must decide whether to enhance the conviction with “by use of a deadly weapon” — which effectively allows the judge to double the sentence.

The judge’s instructions are designed to tell jurors how to apply the often complex law they must use to reach a verdict in each specific case. They include a full description of each charge and what elements the prosecution must prove for each as well as what alternative verdicts are available to the jury.