Two convicted murderers win appeal hearings
Nevada’s Supreme Court has reversed murder and kidnapping convictions against a Las Vegas woman who was convicted as a co-conspirator.
Natasha Barker was convicted of murder, robbery and kidnapping. She filed a habeas corpus petition arguing that the jury instructions on her liability as a co-conspirator failed to meet standards set by the court. That requirement calls for instructions telling the jury it must find she had the specific intent to commit murder and kidnapping in order to convict her of those crimes.
“Respecting the murder conviction, there was no evidence of Barker’s precise role, if any, in the victim’s murder,” the panel of Justices Bill Maupin, Michael Cherry and Nancy Saitta stated in their order.
That means, they stated, the jurors relied on the theory she was a co-conspirator to find her guilty.
They said the same is true in the kidnapping conviction, pointing out that, while the evidence at trial “overwhelmingly established her participation in a conspiracy to rob the victim and the actual robbery, there was essentially no evidence supporting a finding that Barker had the specific intent to kidnap the victim.”
The murder and kidnapping convictions were thrown out but the robbery conviction stands.
The court also ordered an evidentiary hearing for Vornelius Phillips, who pleaded guilty to murder, robbery and kidnapping among other crimes. His sentences include several life terms in the Nevada prison system without possibility of parole.
Phillips filed a post conviction petition for a writ of habeas corpus, which was denied. The high court ruled he is entitled to an evidentiary hearing to resolve his claims his lawyer was ineffective “for advising him to enter a guilty plea to all charges when there was no benefit to him and counsel’s improper advice rendered his plea invalid.”
“We agree,” said the court in ordering that hearing.
“He asserted that counsel advised him to plead guilty in order to avoid the death penalty. However, the district court had determined that he was mentally retarded and the state was precluded from seeking the death penalty against him,” the court ruling states.
“If avoiding the death penalty was counsel’s sole reason for advising Phillips to plead guilty, this advice could have constituted ineffective assistance of counsel.”
• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.