Supreme Court overturns one murder conviction, upholds three
July 12, 2002
The Nevada Supreme Court on Thursday overturned the murder conviction of Curtis Randall Barker of Las Vegas, agreeing with defense lawyers the district judge unfairly limited his defense.
He was convicted of murder and sentenced to life without possible parole for killing another man during a fight in a Las Vegas hotel room.
Barker’s lawyers argued he killed in self-defense, but the trial judge refused to allow testimony about the victim’s violent behavior and events leading up to the killing.
“We conclude that the victim’s right to testify as to the full sequence of events on the day of the victim’s death should have taken precedence over the district court’s interest in protecting the victim’s reputation,” the high court ruled.
The court found detectives in the case knew the victim had a history of becoming violent when he didn’t get his way and that he was highly intoxicated the day of the killing. They also knew that Barker’s defense was self-defense, yet the trial judge refused to allow any of that testimony.
“Appellant conceded that he caused the victim’s death but claimed he did so without malice or the intent to kill him and thus, the only issue to be decided was the level of criminal liability to be imposed,” the court ruled.
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Justices Cliff Young, Deborah Agosti and Myron Leavitt concluded the outcome might have been much different if the jury had known those things and, therefore, the conviction must be thrown out.
Three other murder convictions, however, were upheld.
Juan Castillo was sentenced to life without possible parole in 1996 after a gang-related shooting incident at Horseman’s Park in Reno. An innocent bystander died after a fight broke out between rival gangs at a soccer game.
Castillo argued that the bullet didn’t come from his gun and that, even if it did, he was shooting in self defense because the other gang started the fight.
The high court found none of his numerous claims of error during trial had any merit.
Deangelo Lamont Mitchell’s appeal in the murder and robbery of an elderly Las Vegas couple was also rejected. He listed numerous grounds for the appeal including that, since he was just 16 at the time, he should be tried as a minor, not an adult. But the high court pointed out that the Legislature has specifically ruled any murder should be handled in district, not juvenile, court.
The court also refused to throw out his admissions made to detectives saying he was properly advised of his rights and capable of understanding them despite his age.
Manny Christopher Vallez was also denied appellate relief. He was convicted in 1996 of murder and battery after shooting Matt Reynolds in a gang-related incident. A witness testified Vallez ran up to the victim and shot him in the stomach at close range.
At trial, he was sentenced to two consecutive life terms with possible parole. He lost his primary appeal but filed to have the ruling set aside charging his lawyers were constitutionally inadequate.
The high court disagreed saying most of his claims are either “belied or repelled by the record or are not supported by factual allegations that would, if true, entitle him to relief.”