CARSON CITY — A judge’s decision in the 2014 Las Vegas murder trial of Ralph Jeremias is enough to overturn his conviction and death sentence, a defense attorney told the Nevada Supreme Court on Thursday.
A 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision found that it was an error to exclude the public during jury selection, said Las Vegas attorney Jonell Thomas. There is a constitutional right for the public to be present during jury selection, and it was violated in this case, she said.
Thomas raised numerous issues in the appeal on behalf of Jeremias, who was sentenced for the execution-style shootings of Paul Stephens and Brian Hudson in 2009.
“Sometimes constitutional rights are not convenient,” she told the court, which will rule later in the case.
Clark County Chief Deputy District Attorney David Stanton characterized the exclusion differently, noting that all seats were taken up by potential jurors. Clark County District Judge Valerie Adair said seats would open up quickly for the family and other members of the public as jurors were dismissed, he said.
“The court never ordered the public to be excluded,” Stanton said arguing the appeal of Jeremias’ death sentence.
Thomas also cited concerns with testimony elicited during the penalty phase of the trial that incorrectly suggested to the jury that sentencing Jeremias to life without parole might not guarantee he would never be released from prison, giving impetus to a jury to impose death.
“I can almost think of nothing more damaging in a capital case,” Thomas said.
Stanton said the testimony was intended only to present the parole process to the jury. The jury was properly instructed and it was never an issue, he said.
Prosecutors said during his trial that Jeremias used a 9 mm handgun to shoot and kill the two men execution-style. Jeremias had purchased marijuana from Stephens in the past and coveted money and laptops in their apartment.
Jeremias testified that he went to the apartment complex with friends Carlos Zapata and Ivan Rios to buy marijuana and found the victims already dead.
Both Rios and Zapata told investigators that Jeremias went inside alone with a gun and shot each victim multiple times.
Contact Sean Whaley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-461-3820. Follow @seanw801 on Twitter.