As head of the federal public defender's office in Nevada, Franny Forsman has spent her career passionately opposing capital punishment and advocating for those on death row.
In a tragic twist, Forsman could find herself testifying in a death penalty case because of her relationship with Alexus Postorino, the 15-year-old girl who was shot and killed Monday during a home invasion that centered on a drug dispute involving the teen's father.
Alexus thought of Forsman as a grandmother and called her "Granny Franny." Forsman had known Alexus since the girl was just 18 months old. Forsman's daughter had begun dating Alexus' father, William Postorino.
Postorino, who has a criminal history involving drug trafficking, left Alexus in the care of Forsman's daughter while he was serving time in prison.
Authorities say it was William Postorino's relationship with felon Norman Belcher that led to Alexus' death.
Belcher, who has been convicted of drug trafficking and homicide, believed Postorino owed him money and had sent him threatening text messages. Las Vegas police believe Belcher broke into Postorino's southwest valley home to rob him about 3 a.m. Monday.
Authorities also contend Belcher planned to leave no witnesses behind who could identify him.
They said Belcher, who also uses the name Norman Bates, and Postorino have known each other since grade school. Belcher, who was released from prison over the summer, also knew Alexus.
Police allege that Belcher shot Alexus and 31-year-old Nicholas Brabham, who remained in critical condition Thursday.
Belcher also is accused of taking a 60-inch television, a laptop computer and a safe containing an unknown amount of money.
A third person in the house during the shootings escaped, police said.
Postorino was at a casino at the time.
Forsman fought back tears Thursday as she described how she always hung a stocking for Alexus and invited her over on Christmas mornings to open presents.
This year, Forsman had planned to give Alexus books about Frank Lloyd Wright because the girl had grown interested in architecture.
"There was something unusual about Alexus. (She) had these manners and graces. Having grown up in the turmoil that she grew up in, you wouldn't expect that. She was poised in the middle of chaos," Forsman said. "She was a survivor. She didn't survive this one."
Forsman recalled taking Alexus to visit her father in prison. When she was younger, Alexus would say her dad was at work.
Still, the teen loved her father, a single parent who also adored her, Forsman said. Alexus also had a strong extended family who looked after her and supported her, Forsman said.
Alexus was a wonderful student and an avid roller skater, Forsman said, adding the teen was sweet, bright, witty and motivated.
"Alexus not only had dreams, she had plans," she said.
Alexus got herself into Southwest Career and Technical Academy, a magnet high school, Forsman said.
"Alexus was very easy to be with," she said, adding the girl was well behaved and polite.
Forsman said she took Alexus around the federal courthouse on Take Your Child to Work days.
Because of Forsman's close relationship with Alexus, the teen's death has sent shock waves through the Las Vegas legal community. Attorneys and judges question whether they could fairly represent Belcher or hear his case.
If Belcher is convicted of first-degree murder, Forsman almost certainly would be called as a witness to determine whether death by lethal injection is an appropriate punishment.
Clark County's special public defender's office, which handles murder cases and is led by David Schieck, decided it could not represent Belcher because of its working relationship with Forsman.
At Belcher's Thursday court appearance, Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Karen Bennett-Haron announced she had a conflict in the case and recused herself because she had worked for Forsman earlier in her career.
Belcher's case is now set to be heard on Monday by Justice of the Peace Joe Bonaventure.
If the case advances to District Court, there are several judges, including Ken Cory and Linda Bell, who once worked at the federal public defender's office.
Some defense attorneys have speculated it might be difficult to find a local lawyer certified to handle a death penalty case who does not have a long-standing relationship with Forsman.
Attorneys might have to be brought in from Northern Nevada to represent Belcher.
But Clark County public defender Phil Kohn said Thursday his office has not found any conflict that would stop them from representing Belcher and will take the 35-year-old man's case.
Kohn said no attorneys on his office's homicide team have ever worked for or with Forsman. "We're going to defend this case as vigorously as we would any other case," he said.
But there is the possibility that there are witnesses in the case who have been represented by the public defender's office. And any witnesses against Belcher previously represented by Kohn's office would automatically result in a recusal.
It is too soon to know who will be called to testify in the Belcher case.
Meanwhile, Chief Deputy District Attorney Chris Lalli said the Belcher case will likely be submitted to the Clark County district attorney's death penalty committee for review if the case proceeds to District Court.
There are several aggravating circumstances in the case, including Belcher's conviction for voluntary manslaughter in a 2003 homicide involving another drug dealer.
Forsman said she would be happy to talk about Alexus if subpoenaed to testify, but would be bothered if her testimony was used to support another killing.
"I couldn't support killing anybody," Forsman said. "As horrible as this crime is, and as sad and as angry and as unhappy as I am, and as confused as I am about how anybody can do this to Alexus ... when it comes down to it, I think that continuing with the killing makes it worse. One more death is not going to make anybody feel better."
Contact reporter Francis McCabe at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-1039.