Prosecutors should not have been allowed to show jurors photographs of the charred bodies of a cab driver and his passenger, defense attorneys for convicted killer Ammar Harris argued Monday before the Nevada Supreme Court.
Defense attorney Robert Langford said the rush to take Harris’ case to trial and a judge making a late-night decision to admit certain crime scene photos were “emblematic of a problem.”
Langford said the photographs of the victims — who were killed after a fatal shooting led to a crash and explosion on the Las Vegas Strip — inflamed the passions of jurors and resulted in a conviction on three counts of first-degree murder for Harris, who was sentenced to die by the same jury that found him guilty in October 2015.
District Judge Kathleen Delaney allowed the pictures as evidence at trial without issuing a record of how she made her decision, Langford argued.
Prosecutors said Harris left Haze nightclub at Aria in the pre-dawn hours of Feb. 21, 2013, after a quarrel. He drove alongside Kenneth Cherry Jr.’s car on the Strip and fired a bullet that plowed through the 27-year-old’s vital organs, killing him. Cherry’s Maserati then slammed into a taxi, causing an explosion that killed driver Michael Boldon, 62, and his passenger, Sandra Sutton-Wasmund, 48, a mother of three from Washington. A passenger in Cherry’s Maserati suffered a minor gunshot wound.
Chief Deputy District Attorney David Stanton argued that the photographs were used to show the cause and manner of death for Boldon and Sutton-Wasmund.
“Their deaths were graphic,” Stanton argued, “and there’s no other way to show that.”
During a sentencing phase of his trial, Harris refused to appear in court for three days of testimony and argument. Jurors found 10 aggravating factors that contributed to his punishment and no mitigating circumstances that should have spared his life. Harris later was sentenced to an additional 16 to 40 years in prison on related charges.
Another one of Harris’ attorneys, Thomas Ericsson, also argued that jurors should have been able to weigh voluntary manslaughter charges against Harris. A verdict form was delivered to jurors before defense attorneys and prosecutors reviewed it, Ericsson said.
Justice Michael Cherry asked whether attorneys hired an investigator to find out if jurors considered why the possible charge did not appear on the verdict form. Ericsson said no, but he said the high court should grant Harris’ appeal based on “cumulative errors” during his trial.