Testimony begins in trial of man accused of killing Reno officer
RENO, Nev. (AP) — Larry Peck was either a cold-blooded killer who hated law enforcement or a paranoid drunk who didn’t intend to shoot and kill a Reno police officer nearly two years ago.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers laid out the conflicting portrayals Thursday in their opening statements to jurors who will decide whether Peck is guilty of first-degree murder, as prosecutors contend, or of a lesser crime, as maintained by the defense.
The distinction could mean a possible death sentence for Peck, 54, charged with the shooting death of Officer John Bohach during a five-hour standoff at Peck’s home Aug. 22, 2001.
The standoff unfolded early that morning, when another officer pulled Peck over on suspicion of drunken driving. After giving the officer his license and registration, Peck sped away and drove home.
When Bohach and other officers arrived at the home minutes later, Peck spewed profanities and told them to leave him alone, Washoe County District Attorney Dick Gammick told jurors.
Gammick said Peck fired two warning shots with a shotgun through the door of the small house.
“Not a single police officer returned any fire at this time,” he said.
Bohach, 35, was crouching inside a delivery van when Peck fired an armor-piercing round from a .306-caliber rifle, Gammick said.
Peck yelled, “I can see a cop out there and I’m going to kill him,” seconds before the fatal shot was fired, Gammick said. The bullet pierced the hood of the truck and traveled under the dashboard, striking Bohach.
When Peck finally was arrested he was wearing a “bandolier of ammunition” and had several weapons in the home, including an SKS assault rifle, Gammick said.
During Gammick’s statement, Peck, 54, sat quietly with his lawyers at the defense table. The bulge of a bulletproof vest was visible under his blue shirt.
Paul Quade, one of Peck’s attorneys, countered that evidence will show the bullet wasn’t intended to kill Bohach, but was a “third warning shot” that found its fatal mark after bouncing off a door or window and the van.
“This bullet did not travel from point A to point B. It changed directions,” Quade told the panel of 12 jurors and four alternates.
“The state is going to fail to prove … that Larry Peck had reckless, willful, intent. That he took a bead, if you will, on Officer Bohach and shot him,” Quade said.
Quade also said poor police procedures exacerbated the situation.
“In no way are we blaming law enforcement for this,” Quade told the jury. But, he added, “Poor decisions were made.”
Quade said the shooting was a convergence of an all-night drinking binge, Peck’s paranoia about police and the officers’ actions.
It wasn’t willful and deliberate, he said, but rather “rash and impulsive.”
Defense lawyers are hoping an unusual test allowed by Washoe District Judge Brent Adams will show alcohol altered Peck’s behavior and made him incapable of premeditated murder.
After court Thursday, Peck was to be served jailhouse cocktails of either ethanol diluted with water or pure vodka. A psychologist hired by the defense will monitor his behavior, co-defense attorney Ken McKenna said during a courtroom break.
Gammick and Chief Deputy District Attorney Karl Hall objected to the test during a hearing Wednesday. They argued that Peck — who they said has a history of violence and anger — could fake his behavior.
Adams agreed to allow the test, but said it cannot be used as trial evidence until another hearing is held outside the jury’s presence.