RENO — Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt is asking a federal appeals court to reinstate a 1996 murder conviction the U.S. Supreme Court struck down because prosecutors may have failed to prove the 14-year-old killer knew what he did was wrong.
Peter Quinn Elvik was living with his grandparents in Carson City when he was convicted of the 1995 shotgun slaying of 63-year-old William Gibson at a local gun range.
The high court sent his case back to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in February to reconsider whether his right to presumed innocence was violated by the trial judge’s failure to specifically explain to the jury he couldn’t be found guilty if he didn’t have the capacity to understand what he’d done.
Elvik fled to Costa Mesa, Calif., where he was apprehended the next day. He claimed self-defense, but was convicted of first-degree murder and robbery with a deadly weapon in 1996 and sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
The Nevada Supreme Court rejected Elvik’s earlier appeals, ruling in 2002 that any error in Elvik’s trial was harmless because there was clear proof that he understood his actions. The court noted that Elvik planned a robbery to get a car, tried to elude police after the shooting and gave evasive answers to officers.
The Nevada Appeal first reported on Monday that Laxalt had filed the request for reinstatement of the conviction. Laxalt argues the entirety of the evidence made it clear Elvik was a teen of above-average intelligence who tried to cover up his crimes.
“The record contains overwhelming evidence establishing that Elvik did understand the wrongfulness of his actions,” Assistant Solicitor General Jeffery Conner wrote on Laxalt’s behalf in Friday’s circuit court filing.
Among other things, he said the evidence showed Elvik:
— put a shotgun barrel down his pants while walking through Carson City to avoid getting in trouble.
— hid the shotgun while driving Gibson’s car
— threw one of Gibson’s guns in a river
— told his girlfriend of his intent to remove his fingerprints from the car
— altered his appearance after he overheard police describe his clothing
“In this case, not only did the state present overwhelming evidence establishing Elvik’s capacity to know the wrongfulness of his actions, Elvik strategically chose not to present evidence on the issue of criminal capacity,” Conner said.
It was not Elvik’s burden to present any evidence “to raise mental defenses,” federal public defender Lori Teicher said. “It was the state’s burden to prove his mental knowledge of wrongfulness.”
Now 35, Elvik has been paroled from the murder count and is serving life with the possibility of parole for the deadly weapon enhancement.