Jury returns today in rape, murder trial | NevadaAppeal.com

Jury returns today in rape, murder trial

SCOTT SONNER
Associated Press Writer

RENO (AP) – Jurors will resume deliberations today in the trial of a 28-year-old Nevada pipe fitter accused of raping and murdering one college coed and sexually assaulting two others, in a case that shook the community.

The jury began deliberations Wednesday following two weeks of emotional testimony.

Prosecutors said a mountain of evidence – including a DNA match as rare as 1 in 125 quadrillion – proves James Biela is the serial rapist who terrorized the Reno area for most of 2008.

If convicted, the ex-Marine and martial arts student could face the death penalty.

“There is one inescapable conclusion,” Washoe County Deputy District Attorney Elliott Sattler said in his closing arguments. “James Michael Biela is a kidnapper, a rapist and a murderer.”

The seven-woman, five-man jury began deliberating at about 5:30 p.m. Wednesday before knocking off 90 minutes later under a new rule that requires the courthouse to close at 7 p.m. due to budget constraints.

“We’re getting kicked out of the courthouse,” said Washoe District Judge Robert Perry, who instructed the jurors to return at 9 a.m. today.

The string of assaults near the University of Nevada, Reno campus culminated in the kidnapping and strangulation of 19-year-old Brianna Denison in January 2008.

Detectives said it was the work of a serial rapist who stalked petite women and had a fetish for thong underwear.

Fueled by thousands of tips and anonymous calls to a police hot line, a nine-month manhunt led detectives to Biela, who was arrested in November 2008 after his ex-girlfriend let police take DNA from their son.

Biela’s lawyers argued that the avalanche of publicity over the case put pressure on law enforcement officers and caused them to make mistakes. They said it also resulted in the county crime lab using up all DNA samples before the defense team could hire a private lab to verify the results.

“This case has gotten a lot of attention,” public defender Jay Slocum said. “In fact, during jury selection there wasn’t anyone on the entire (225-member pool) who hadn’t heard about this case.”

Slocum also argued that the facts in the three assaults were different – the first alleged victim in October 2007 raped at gunpoint and the second ordered to perform only oral sex in December 2007 before the fatal attack on Denison.

“Why would a man who already has gotten away with it twice – if you believe the state – decide ‘I have to kill her?”‘ Slocum asked during closing arguments. “It doesn’t make sense.”

Denison, a sophomore at Santa Barbara City College, was home visiting friends when she was kidnapped Jan. 20, 2008, while sleeping on a friend’s couch near the UNR campus. Her body was found in a field less than a month later.

Sattler said the underwear Biela strangled Denison with belonged to the friend with whom Denison was staying.

“He wrapped those underwear he just stole around that girl’s little neck and strangled her to death,” Sattler said.

The underwear had DNA from Denison, Biela and the friend on it – an “amazing random match” that occurs only 1 in 125 quadrillion times, he said.

“That’s 15 zeros,” Sattler said, a level far beyond what the FBI requires to determine “he is the source of that DNA.”