Jack Mazzan admitted for the first time Thursday that he killed both Richard Minor Jr. and April Barber in 1978.
After fighting his original conviction and death sentence for more than 20 years, the Nevada Supreme Court two years ago agreed Washoe district attorneys in 1979 had concealed possible evidence that someone else could have committed the crime and ordered a new trial.
Washoe County District Attorney Richard Gammick then filed new charges alleging Mazzan had murdered Barber, a former prostitute who was Minor's girlfriend at the time. Gammick said new DNA sampling techniques proved Mazzan's involvement in the crime.
In a plea deal made Feb. 15, Mazzan surprised everyone by agreeing to admit he killed Minor if Gammick agreed not to prosecute him in the death of Barber. He was resentenced to life with possible parole three months ago and, since he has already served more than 21 years, was scheduled for his first parole hearing almost immediately.
Mazzan, who spent 20 years on Nevada's death row, was arrested Sept. 10, 2001, for the second murder. Minor had never admitted killing Barber until his Thursday hearing before the Parole Board.
Speaking to the board, Mazzan first repeated his admission that he stabbed Minor to death in the victim's apartment after the two argued over the profits from a drug deal.
"We got very high and we entered a major argument over the proceeds," he told Parole Board members Thomas Goodson, John Morrow and Dorla Salling.
"The argument just got out of control and I killed him."
Then Salling asked about Barber. Mazzan replied that the girl was dead "because I killed her."
"She was just part of the whole situation," he said, adding that the girl introduced him to Minor.
Minor's father, Richard Minor Sr., 80, told the panel releasing Mazzan just three months after he was resentenced would be an injustice, especially since Mazzan had denied his guilt all those years.
"He spent those 20 years not in remorse but in protesting his innocence," said the elder Minor, a judge at the time his son was murdered. He said Mazzan finally admitted the crime only to save himself from prosecution in the killing of April Barber.
"The release of John Mazzan at this time would be premature, inappropriate, unfair and unjust," he said.
The theme was repeated by Gammick, who said Mazzan has never shown remorse and "has done nothing but lay the blame off on other people."
Mazzan and his lawyer Robert Langford both said denial was necessary for all those years because he was facing the death penalty.
"If I had admitted it, I would have been executed," Mazzan said.
Langford has described the killing as something that happened between two people in a drug-soaked rage. He said if Mazzan had been allowed to make this same plea at the time of the original trial, "he would have been out five years ago.
"But he's going to be prejudiced once again by not getting parole," he said.
Mazzan told the board he agreed the plea bargain was to his advantage.
"My selfish reason for wanting to be out is to go home and take care of my mother in Florida," he said.
His mother is reportedly suffering from cancer.
He said he wouldn't claim he deserves parole.
"I would consider parole a gift," he said. "I would work for the honor of having parole every day I was out."
Only three of the seven parole board members were present for the hearing and Mazzan must get at least four votes to win his release. Other members will review the hearing transcript and the board is expected to make a decision within two weeks.