Mazzan's murder retrial postponed until Jan. 8

RENO - The murder retrial of man freed after serving 20 years on death row has been postponed to allow more time for DNA testing of old evidence.

Washoe District Judge Peter Breen ordered the continuance to Jan. 8, a day after he rejected a defense motion to dismiss the murder charges against Jack Mazzan and issued a ruling in support of the original team of prosecutors, including former Washoe County District Attorney Mills Lane.

Mazzan, 53, has maintained his innocence since he was tried and convicted of the 1978 murder of Richard Minor Jr., the son of a justice of the peace. Mazzan was sent to death row in 1980.

The Nevada Supreme Court overturned the conviction late last year after finding prosecutors had withheld key evidence from the defense that suggested drug dealers might have been involved.

Breen, who was the original judge in the case 20 years ago, granted Mazzan's release last month on $100,000 bail pending the retrial.

Mazzan's lawyers argued the charges should be dismissed and Mazzan set free because the prosecutors were guilty of misconduct for failing to share the evidence.

But Breen said in the ruling Thursday that the Supreme Court's decision had resulted from his own failure ''to discern the full impact'' of the evidence Lane and former prosecutor Calvin Dunlap had shared with the defense counsel.

''That points to human error and lack of insight rather than misconduct,'' Breen ruled.

''This court has presided over countless cases which Judge Lane and Mr. Dunlap have prosecuted. Never has Judge Lane nor Mr. Dunlap knowingly withheld (evidence),'' Breen wrote.

''They are fearless prosecutors of the highest ability.''

Lane, a former boxing referee and Reno judge who now stars in his syndicated television program ''Judge Mills Lane,'' said he felt vindicated by the ruling.

''I admit to being a hard-nosed prosecutor, but I never withheld evidence on anybody,'' Lane said Friday.

''I'm glad that Judge Breen issued the order he did and made the findings that he made about no prosecutorial, intentional denial of material,'' he said.

Assistant District Attorney John Helzer said Friday prosecutors haven't decided yet whether to seek the death penalty for Mazzan again. He agreed more time was needed for DNA testing and he was pleased with Breen's ruling on Thursday.

''In a nut shell, he says there is a case here and we should go to trial,'' Helzer said.

In addition to misconduct, the defense had argued that old evidence and the death of witnesses would prejudice their client. But Breen rejected those arguments, too.

''In fact, most of the evidence regarding this case is still available here,'' Breen wrote. ''There is no reason for a presumption of prejudice due to the passage of time after trial.''

Mazzan's lawyer did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment Friday.

Mazzan and Minor had been smoking marijuana, snorting cocaine and taping albums at Minor's apartment a few hours before the slaying.

The victim was stabbed 15 times. His body was found in his apartment by his father, then-Reno Justice of the Peace Richard C. Minor.

Mazzan said he had tried to leave but his car wouldn't start and Minor told him to sleep behind the couch. He awoke to see Minor scuffling with someone he couldn't identify. Minor collapsed and Mazzan heard two people running away.

Mazzan ran, too. Fearing he might be in danger and could be arrested for drug use, Mazzan fled to Las Vegas. Police contacted him and he voluntarily returned to Reno.

''We must recall that Mazzan was clearly in close proximity to the victim at the time of his murder and failed to contact police,'' Breen said.

''When looking at the totality of the circumstances ... it appears that a retrial, as opposed to dismissal, is appropriate.''


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