Echols case still undecided by Supreme Court

While the trial of 10 youths accused of killing Sammy Resendiz is scheduled to start July 22, prosecutors are still waiting for a ruling in another Carson City murder case.

District Attorney Noel Waters said in May when the Resendiz opinion was issued he expected a decision to follow quickly in the case against Anthony Echols, because the issues are the same.

In both cases, Carson District judges tossed out felony murder charges. The felony murder statute says that murder committed during the commission of another felony such as rape or burglary is automatically a first-degree murder.

That relieves prosecutors from having to prove the murder was willful, premeditated and deliberate.

Echols was charged with breaking into the home of Carson City contractor Richard Albrecht in August 2000 and murdering him. Albrecht was shot twice in the head. Prosecutors say his motive was that he believed his estranged wife Karen was involved in a relationship with Albrecht.

His attorneys challenged the felony murder charge, saying Echols is accused of breaking in to kill Albrecht. They said that means the break-in was not a separate event and, therefore, the felony murder statute doesn't apply. They said prosecutors should be required to prove premeditation and deliberation to a jury in order to win a first-degree murder conviction.

They relied on former Judge Mike Fondi's ruling in the Resendiz case and Judge Bill Maddox agreed, tossing out the felony murder count.

Defense lawyers argued in the Resendiz case that the defendants forced their way into a North Carson Street motel room with the intent to beat whoever was there and, therefore, the break-in and murder were not separate events. Fondi, now retired, agreed and reduced the charges to second-degree murder saying that, if the district attorney wanted to recharge the group with first-degree murder, he would have to assume the burden of proving the killing was willful, premeditated and deliberate.

But the Nevada Supreme Court, in a split decision issued May 15, reinstated the first-degree murder charges against 10 Native American youths accused in the gang-related killing of Resendiz.

The majority opinion in that case said the Nevada Legislature "has specifically included burglary as one of the crimes that can escalate a homicide to first-degree murder without the necessity of proving premeditation and deliberation."

Despite the fact the Echols case relies on the Resendiz ruling by Fondi, it remained undecided as of Friday.


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