A Carson City man facing life in prison for being a habitual criminal narrowly escaped that fate Tuesday when a judge declined to impose the sentence, saying life in prison is reserved "for the worst of the worst."
Scott Tyzbir, 39, was instead given a sentence of 19 to 48 months in prison for possession of a controlled substance and two to five years for possession of a stolen vehicle. The sentences will be served back to back, said Chief Deputy District Attorney Anne Langer.
It was only the second time the Carson City District Attorney's Office filed charges based on the habitual-criminal enhancement.
Under Nevada law, a person can be deemed a habitual criminal who has been convicted three times of a felony, or five times of a petty larceny or a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor of which fraud or the intent to defraud is an element. The sentence can be life in prison without parole, life in prison with parole, or 25 years with parole after 10.
In 1993, Richard Tanksley was sentenced to life in prison by then-District Judge Michael Fondi based on the habitual criminal statute when he was being tried on charges of extortion and arson. Previously, Tanksley was convicted of criminal mischief in 1977, aggravated assault in 1982, and as an ex-felon in possession of a firearm in 1990 - all felonies - prior to the 1993 convictions.
Fondi made national news when he ordered Tanksley's mouth taped shut for the remainder of the hearing and found him in contempt of court after Tanksley repeatedly interrupted him.
Tanksley was 51 when he died in prison April 3, 2003, from an undisclosed illness.
Prosecutor Langer said Tyzbir's repeated failure to abide by the law put him in the same category as Tanksley.
"Tyzbir has five felonies, and he'd gone to prison at least twice," she said. "What we felt made him a danger to the community was each time he got out of prison he'd immediately start committing crimes."
In the criminal complaint filed against him, Langer listed Tyzbir's convictions:
- A June 1994 conviction for attempted theft.
- A June 1998 conviction for possession of a controlled substance
- A June 2003 conviction of possession of a controlled substance and failure to stop on the signal of a peace officer.
In January, two juries at separate trials found Tyzbir guilty of possession of .23 grams of methamphetamine and possession of a stolen motor vehicle.
But Defense Attorney Kay Armstrong said Tyzbir's admission that he has a problem with methamphetamine, and his mother's plea to the court for leniency may have played a part in District Judge Bill Maddox's decision against the enhancement.
Armstrong said she and her client "were both relieved" at the sentence.
Maddox also suggested Tyzbir enroll in a drug treatment program while serving his sentence. He is eligible for parole in 43 months.
Contact F.T. Norton at email@example.com or 881-1213.