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Appeals court hears excluded evidence arguments in body burning murder case

The outcome of a Nevada murder case may depend on whether a key piece of evidence is admitted at the defendants’ upcoming trial, a prosecutor argued Wednesday.

In October, District Judge Michelle Leavitt excluded the evidence — a conversation between the two suspects that was recorded as they sat in the back of an Arizona Highway Patrol vehicle. The judge based her ruling on an Arizona law against surreptitious recordings.

Prosecutors appealed the decision, and the Nevada Court of Appeals heard arguments on the matter Wednesday in a new courtroom at Faith Lutheran Middle School and High School.

“It is a significant piece of evidence,” Chief Deputy District Attorney David Stanton told the court’s three judges.

A trial for the two defendants in the case, Majunique Brown and Marshan Bowden, is scheduled to begin March 14 before District Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez.

“This was not a surreptitious recording,” Stanton argued at Wednesday’s hearing.

He said an in-vehicle recording device, commonly used by today’s law enforcement, captured the pair’s conversation.

“Here what we have, in essence, is a body cam for a vehicle,” the prosecutor said.

Las Vegas police require any officer hired after 2013 to wear a body camera, which can record sound if manually activated.

Stanton said an Arizona trooper was in and out of the vehicle during the hour the two suspects spent inside it, and the pair had “no reasonable expectation of privacy.”

Attorney Warren Geller, who represents Bowden, said he did not rely on an expectation-of-privacy argument in moving to suppress the recording. Instead, he argued that the trooper failed to obtain consent from either Brown or Bowden before recording their conversation.

Bowden and Brown face murder, kidnapping and robbery charges in the January 2013 stabbing death of Jason Byes. Las Vegas police have said the pair used Byes’ car to transport his body to Kingman, Ariz., before driving to New Orleans, where they were arrested.

Shortly after 7 a.m. on Jan. 7, 2013, the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office was alerted to a partially burned body on the side of a road. About 90 minutes later, an Arizona trooper stopped Byes’ car as it sped east on Interstate 40.

The trooper said the man and the woman in the car were nervous. The woman was bleeding from a cut on her hand, and a report said the trooper believed blood found in the car came from her wound. After searching the vehicle, the trooper released them both and cited Bowden for speeding.

On Wednesday, the Court of Appeals heard arguments in two criminal cases from Clark County, including the murder case. They were the first court proceedings held in the new courtroom at the private Las Vegas school.

Students studied the appellate process in anticipation of the visit as part of the school’s justice and advocacy program. Dozens of students attended the arguments, which lasted about an hour, and several asked questions of the judges and lawyers afterward.

Chief Judge Michael Gibbons told spectators the Bowden case likely will be the court’s “fastest decision ever.”

“We have to decide this case very quickly,” he said.

Stanton said the students could attend the murder trial, then added in jest, “if you want to take two weeks off of school.”

Nevada’s new Court of Appeals was assigned 816 cases last year and decided 712 of them.

“We were sworn in one year and one day ago,” Gibbons told those in attendance on Wednesday.

He said the Court of Appeals has helped reduce the Nevada Supreme Court’s backlog. Judge Jerome Tao said the new court also has reduced the amount of time that appeals linger in the system.

One female student asked whether the judges had any regrets about their careers. Judge Abbi Silver, who once was employed as a cheerleader for the Utah Jazz, said she wished she had worked on Capitol Hill.

Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at cgeer@reviewjournal.com or 702-384-8710. Find her on Twitter: @CarriGeer

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