Ralph “Macky” Jeremias, now 36, was sentenced to die after a trial in which prosecutors said he shot and killed Paul Stephens and Brian Hudson inside their central valley apartment during a 2009 marijuana deal that turned into a robbery.
Before his 2014 trial, his attorneys learned that a man named Danny Carrillo had information that could impeach one of Jeremias’ co-defendants, Carlos Zapata, a key trial witness for the prosecution.
District Judge Cristina Silva ruled Tuesday that deputy special public defenders Charles Cano and Clark Patrick failed to investigate Carrillo as a potential witness and “did not reasonably investigate or prepare for trial.”
Jeremias’ stepfather, Gordon Daniel, learned of the judge’s decision through a reporter’s phone call.
“That’s the best news we had in a long time,” said Daniel, who attended the trial. “It’s a great opportunity. He’s going to be really happy, I’m sure.”
From the witness stand at his trial, Jeremias said he went to the apartment complex with friends Zapata and Ivan Rios to buy marijuana. Both Rios and Zapata told investigators that Jeremias went inside alone with a gun and shot each victim multiple times.
About a year after their arrests, Zapata made a deal with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder, one count of robbery and one count of conspiracy to commit robbery. In exchange, he agreed to testify at Jeremias’ trial.
In 2012, Rios was acquitted of murder and robbery charges.
“If Carrillo’s testimony had been presented to the jury, it also could have impacted the outcome of the trial,” Silva wrote. “Even if the jury believed some part of Zapata’s testimony, his role in the murders could have potentially been minimized. The jury could have believed he was simply present, or he in fact committed the robbery or burglary, but not the murders.”
The judge added that jurors presented with testimony from Carrillo could have questioned whether Jeremias was the shooter “or any other possibility that could have resulted in a different outcome at trial and, importantly, a different penalty.”
Prosecutors have 30 days to decide whether to appeal the decision to the Nevada Supreme Court.
Cano testified during a post-trial hearing that he wished the defense attorneys had taken further efforts to meet with Carrillo, according to court records. On Tuesday, Cano said he was happy Jeremias could get a new trial.
“We’re pleased that the petition was granted,” Cano said Tuesday. “Our office never felt that this case should have proceeded as a death penalty case to begin with and wish all the best to Mr. Jeremias going forward.”