The Nevada Supreme Court has ordered a new trial in a Las Vegas murder case because the prosecution changed the charges after hearing the defendant testify during his first trial.
Charles Edward Jennings was originally convicted of murdering a former co-worker three days after he was fired from his job as a U.S. Postal Service worker. He was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences without possibility of parole.
Jennings said the gun went off while the victim was trying to take it away from him. He turned himself in a few minutes after the Dec. 19, 1996, shooting.
While testifying on his own behalf, Jennings said he called the victim over to his car at gunpoint.
That testimony prompted Clark County prosecutors to amend their charges immediately after the testimony to add a felony-murder theory alleging Jennings had kidnapped the victim before shooting him. The difference is, with that change, the state didn't have to prove intent to kill to get a murder conviction.
Jennings appealed, arguing the state had no right to add charges based on his own testimony.
The Supreme Court, in an opinion authored by Justice Miriam Shearing, agreed and reversed his conviction. It said adding the new charge went farther than amending the case to simply add alternative theories supporting the original first-degree murder charge.
"We conclude that substantial rights of Jennings were prejudiced by the amendment of the information after he testified," the opinion says. "In this case, Jennings had no notice before he testified of any allegations of facts that would support a charge of felony-murder. Therefore, he had no opportunity to defend the charge."
Jennings will get a new trial on the charges.