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Las Vegas judge rejects argument to toss out death penalty

Updated May 21, 2019 - 10:42 pm

A judge in Las Vegas rejected arguments Tuesday from lawyers for a man facing three murder charges who asked to throw out the death penalty, in part, because prosecutors serve in the Legislature.

Clark County Special Public Defender JoNell Thomas argued that a pair of Nevada’s top Democratic lawmakers, Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro and Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, who also are deputy Clark County district attorneys, blocked a hearing for bills that would abolish the death penalty.

“Under our system of government, the people who enforce the laws can’t make the laws,” Thomas, who represents 27-year-old Alonso Perez, argued. “That’s where we have this unique situation where I contend renders our death penalty unconstitutional. … There needs to be a fair opportunity, and Mr. Perez doesn’t have a fair opportunity when his prosecutors are controlling a separate branch of government.”

But in his decision, District Judge Douglas Herndon said the concern should be addressed at another level.

“While it falls in the intellectually interesting category, I do think the motion fails,” Herndon said. “This is a criminal prosecution with very narrow issues of either the gentleman is guilty or not guilty, and then the jury deciding the punishment. It’s not really a forum to investigate whether there’s legislative bias or why particular representatives may have done something, whether they’re prosecutors or anybody else.”

Chief Deputy District Attorney Pam Weckerly argued that a lack of a hearing in the Legislature could not be deemed unconstitutional.

“In the end, what the defense is asking you to do is declare inaction by the Legislature a constitutional violation,” Weckerly told the judge. “And respectfully, the state’s position is that is a violation of separation of powers of the courts.”

Perez was arrested in September 2016 in connection with the fatal shooting of Mohammed Robinson, 31, a month earlier. While waiting to be interviewed at the North Las Vegas police detective bureau days later, Perez managed to escape, snapping his handcuffs in half, standing on a chair, shifting a ceiling tile and hoisting himself up.

Perez drove away in a stolen truck but was recaptured within days.

Authorities also have said Perez was involved in the August 2016 slayings of Jeffrey Johnson, 50, near Charleston and Nellis boulevards, and Candelario Duran, 37, near Covey Lane and Irwin Avenue.

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

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