Nevada Supreme Court overturns 2014 murder conviction of Carson City man

Leonardo Cardoza

Leonardo Cardoza

The Nevada Supreme Court overturned the murder conviction of a Carson City man.

Leonardo Cardoza was convicted or killing Desiree Bragg, 19, by ramming his minivan into her, crushing her body against the front of her mother’s north Carson City house in 2013.

He was sentenced in August 2014 to 20 years to life for the killing, plus extended and consecutive sentences for use of a deadly weapon and attempting to kill Bragg’s boyfriend.

Altogether, he would have to serve at least 29 years before being eligible for parole.

The order signed by the three-justice panel of Michael Douglas, Michael Cherry and Mark Gibbons says Cardoza should get a new trial because district judge James Wilson failed to give the instruction properly defining the elements of first-degree murder.

To convict some one of first-degree murder, the jury must find the killing willful, deliberate and premeditated. In the Cardoza case, the decision states, the instruction did not define each of those three elements. The instruction given, the panel concluded, “impermissibly conflated the concepts of deliberation and premeditation and thus blurred the distinction between first and second-degree murder.”

Allison Joffee, who handled the appeal, said after Cardoza’s sentencing that the defendant was so drunk that night he was incapable of forming the intent needed to support a murder-one conviction. His blood alcohol level at the time of the crime was estimated at 0.28 percent — more than three times the legal limit.

The three-justice panel seemed to agree stating that: “The evidence of deliberation is not overwhelming.”

“Further, Cardoza’s inexplicable behavior after he struck the victim — wandering around outside his vehicle, fleeing in his vehicle, crashing into a fence and stumbling back to the victim’s home — is not emblematic of a willful, deliberate and premeditated murder,” the order states. “Considering this evidence, the jury may not have found Cardoza guilty of first-degree murder had it been instructed that he must have weighed the reasons for or against his action and that an unconsidered and rash act is not deliberate.”

Carson City District Attorney Jason Woodbury said his office will ask the full seven-member Supreme Court to review the decision and reinstate the conviction. If that effort is rejected, he said they will re-try the case.

The same three-justice panel, however, upheld the 2014 conviction of James G. Johnson on seven counts of sexual acts with minors — three counts of sexually assaulting a child under age 14, one count of sexual assault on a child under 16 and three counts of lewdness with a minor under 14.

The Carson City man was sentenced to 35-years to life in prison.

The justices rejected the argument the court should have barred testimony including that he had one victim watch pornographic movies with him and expert testimony that perpetrators use progressive physical contact to make a victim believe that contact is normal.

The panel ruled that District Judge Todd Russell’s decisions were proper and within his discretion, making Johnson’s claims on appeal without merit.


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