Nevada court upholds Las Vegas Strip killer’s death sentence

Updated January 3, 2019 - 12:27 pm

The Nevada Supreme Court has upheld Ammar Harris’ triple murder conviction and death sentence for a fatal 2013 shooting that caused a collision and fiery explosion on the Las Vegas Strip.

In rejecting Harris’ appeal of his conviction by a 5-2 decision, the high court ruled that photographs of the charred bodies of a cab driver and his passenger shown to jurors may not have been necessary as evidence, but the images did not alter the verdict.

“This was not a scenario where the state needed the photographs to prove a fact important to the case,” Justice Lidia Stiglich wrote in the decision handed down Wednesday. “Indeed, there was not even a remote suggestion that the victims died by means other than the impact and explosion. … Thus, while the photographs carried an undue risk of inflaming the jurors’ emotions and that risk substantially outweighed the photographs’ minimal probative value, we do not believe it had a substantial influence over the jurors’ evaluation of the evidence, particularly when they could see the relevant events unfold for themselves.”

The majority also rejected several other claims from Harris. His attorney, Robert Langford, said his client would continue to appeal.

Justices Michael Cherry and Mark Gibbons dissented.

“The improper admission of the photographs and the failure to include the offense of voluntary manslaughter on the verdict form warrant reversal when considered together under a cumulative-error analysis,” Cherry wrote.

Langford had argued that the photographs of the victims — who were killed after a fatal shooting that 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.

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 hit 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.

During the 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 was later sentenced to an additional 16 to 40 years in prison on related charges.

Contact David Ferrara at dferrara@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-1039. Follow @randompoker on Twitter.

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