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Judge to consider mental capacity of man accused in rape, murder of 15-year-old

Lawyers for Javier Righetti say he suffers from an intellectual disability and should not face the death penalty for the rape and killing of a 15-year-old Arbor View High School freshman.

A psychologist hired by defense attorneys testified Wednesday that Righetti’s mental capacity is diminished when it comes to practical skills in life.

“It really is a condition,” the psychologist, George Woods, said when asked about Righetti’s wide-ranging IQ test scores. “It’s not a number.”

A year ago, Righetti pleaded guilty to 10 counts, including murder with a deadly weapon, first-degree kidnapping and sexual assault with a child in the September 2011 death of Alyssa Otremba.

His plea to nine counts stands, but the Nevada Supreme Court last week upheld a lower court decision rejecting a plea on the most serious charge: first-degree murder.

On that count, the plea did not include an admission that the killing was premeditated, which prosecutors said should have been included. Such an admission allows prosecutors to ask a jury to consider more factors regarding the severity of the crime when weighing Righetti’s sentence.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that executing inmates with “mental retardation” violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Martha Mahaffey, a psychologist for the prosecution, said Righetti had an IQ of average intelligence, “which did not meet the first criterion for intellectual disability.”

She also said a brain could continue to develop into a person’s 20s. Righetti was 19 at the time of the killing.

Prosecutor Giancarlo Pesci said that Righetti made the honor roll four times while in high school.

Public Defender Christy Craig told District Judge Michelle Leavitt that the accepted plea forces a nearly impossible defense for Righetti at trial.

“He certainly can’t testify that he didn’t do these things because he’s pled to them,” Craig said. “I can’t sit here and say he’s an innocent man because he’s not. We effectively are prevented from putting on a defense because we cannot say those things didn’t happen. It would be a lie.”

Pesci said evidence of Righetti’s plea would not be revealed to a jury.

“There’s no harm, no foul,” he told the judge. “We can go forward as it is.”

The hearing regarding Righetti’s mental capacity is expected to wrap up Friday, but it is unclear whether Leavitt will rule from the bench.

The Nevada Supreme Court has determined that judges must review three concepts when deciding intellectual disability. With determining intellectual and adaptive functioning, a judge must decide whether the mental deficiencies began at an early age.

Should the judge find Righetti mentally fit, he could face a jury as early as next month on the murder charge.

Righetti confessed to Las Vegas police that after raping Alyssa in September 2011, he tortured her by using a knife to stab her more than 80 times in the face and other body parts, according to authorities. He carved the initials “LV” on the freshman’s body because he felt it was “gangster” and returned later to burn the body, authorities said.

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

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