New trial considered in murder conviction
October 20, 2004
Two members of the Nevada Supreme Court questioned a prosecutor on Wednesday over what they said appeared to be a violation of Nevada law in handling the murder conviction of a Carson City man.
Christopher Fiegehen, 25, is serving a life sentence without possibility of parole in Ely State Prison for the Feb. 10, 2002, death of Alan Chorkey, 50, in the Chorkey home in the Johnson Lane area.
He was sentenced Aug. 21, 2003, after being convicted of first-degree murder, attempted murder with a deadly weapon, burglary and home invasion. His appeal seeks a new trial.
Defense lawyer Richard Cornell argued a jury convicted Fiegehen of an undefined count of murder. He said it was District Judge David Gamble who ruled the conviction was for first-degree murder, then imposed the life sentence.
Justice Deborah Agosti said the law clearly requires the verdict forms presented to a jury designate either first- or second-degree murder. Justice Nancy Becker said that raises concerns that the judge, not the jury, decided Fiegehen’s fate.
Second-degree murder could result in as little as 10 years behind bars.
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Douglas County prosecutor Mark Jackson agreed the specific criminal counts against Fiegehen don’t specify first-degree, felony or “open” murder. And he agreed Nevada law requires a jury to rule specifically when convicting a defendant of murder.
But he argued throwing out Fiegehen’s conviction because of what he characterized as a paperwork error would “be an absurd result.”
Cornell, however, said there is ample evidence in the case to argue for a second-degree murder conviction rather than first-degree murder. He said that means the error denied “a substantial right of the defendant.”
Agosti asked Jackson why no specific degree was charged in the case. He said it was “overlooked.”
“If you made a mistake, that’s not a reason for us not to enforce the statute,” said Becker.
Jackson pointed out the case was tried and presented to jurors as a “felony murder,” which is by definition a first-degree murder. He said he is confident that’s what the jury intended because the case involved a vicious home invasion in which Lorelle Chorkey was shot twice and her husband, Alan, stabbed to death.
Becker interrupted him, saying, “That’s a very emotional argument, but the problem is we have a statute. You want us to overrule 100 years of law.”
At that point, Justice Mark Gibbons, the third member of the panel, interrupted Becker, charging she was being unfair to the prosecution and district court.
A visibly tense Becker responded that she understands what happened was horrible but that’s not the legal issue before the court.
Gibbons is the brother of Douglas County’s other district judge, Michael Gibbons, who is handling a civil lawsuit filed by Lorelle Chorkey against Fiegehen. Michael Gibbons recently ruled that civil case would not be delayed despite concerns by Fiegehen’s lawyers that any testimony he might give in the civil case could be used against him in a retrial of his criminal case.
The high court took the Fiegehen case under submission.
Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at email@example.com or 687-8750.