For more than 20 years, David Pellegrini sat on death row.
On Wednesday, he learned he’ll spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole.
After two days of testimony during a new penalty phase and two hours of deliberation, a Clark County jury sentenced Pellegrini to the maximum punishment allowed in light of a Nevada Supreme Court decision.
Pellegrini received a new penalty phase based on a Supreme Court decision that stated prosecutors can’t convict someone of first-degree murder using a particular circumstance, such as a murder having occurred during a robbery, and then also using that robbery as an aggravating circumstance to garner a death sentence.
In 2006, the high court ruled that their decision had to be applied to cases going back as far as 25 years.
Pellegrini, now 44, was convicted almost 24 years ago for the October 1986 execution-style murder of Barry Hancock, 27, a cashier at the 7-Eleven at Rainbow Boulevard and Sahara Avenue during a robbery.
Pellegrini’s was one of a handful of cases where the only aggravating circumstance that netted a death sentence was disallowed by the Supreme Court’s ruling. Hancock’s murder shocked the Las Vegas community and received intense media attention.
Pellegrini was nearly executed in 1989, when he indicated that he wanted to die and asked attorneys and death penalty opponents not to intervene on his behalf. But in March that year, he changed his mind and asked for a stay.
The jurors, who were not told that Pellegrini had previously been sentenced to death, had to decide between life without parole or life with parole eligibility after 20 years. The lesser punishment would have made him immediately eligible for parole.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Robert Daskas said afterwards he was grateful the jury agreed with prosecutors and sentenced Pellegrini to the maximum punishment now allowed.
“My biggest concern was that an inmate, who was rightfully sentenced to death by 12 members of this community some 23 years ago, stood a very real chance of getting released back into the same community,” Daskas said.
During his allocution at this penalty phase, Pellegrini said he’s no longer the “immature uncaring fool I was 24-years ago. I find it good to think before I act and consider the consequences of my actions, something I did not do in my youth.”
Pellegrini said he is “horrified” by his crime and did not know the words to express his sorrow.
His attorney, Patricia Erickson, argued that Pellegrini has had no disciplinary problems in more than two decades in prison. That shows him to be an appropriate candidate for parole, she said.
Pellegrini was disappointed by the verdict, Erickson said, and added an appeal is planned.
Prosecutors were not allowed to present testimony from family members or friends during this penalty phase, because there was no provision for it under the law in 1986.
Instead prosecutors had to rely on testimony from the homicide detective who originally investigated the crime.
The jury learned that during the robbery, Pellegrini, then 19, handcuffed Hancock and led him to a back room where he was executed with a .357 Magnum handgun. Video of Pellegrini leading Hancock to his death was shown to the jury.
Prosecutors also brought up prior bad acts Pellegrini was accused of. Prior to the murder, Pellegrini faced charges for causing tens of thousands of dollars of damage to his parent’s home and reporting it to police as a burglary. He was also charged for shooting up a hardware store where he had worked.
Prosecutors at the time focused on the murder case and never pursued charges for those incidents.
Pellegrini’s parents did not testify on behalf of their son during the penalty phase, though they were allowed to. Erickson said it was too emotional for them.
Contact reporter Francis McCabe at fmccabe@review journal.com or 702-380-1039.