Court rejects death-row inmate’s petition to overturn capital sentence

CARSON CITY — A divided Nevada Supreme Court has again rejected a death-row inmate’s petition seeking to overturn his capital sentence, with the lone dissenting justice saying he was “troubled” by the majority’s conclusion in its most recent order.

The order dated Friday rejected the request by death-row inmate William Castillo to reconsider the issues he raised in his appeal of his death sentence for the murder of 86-year-old Isabelle Berndt in Las Vegas in 1995.

A lower court rejected Castillo’s claims without an evidentiary hearing and he appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court in July rejected his appeal, and Castillo then asked for the rehearing.

Castillo argued in his latest petition that two of the four aggravating circumstances found by a jury in sentencing him to death were invalid based on a previous Supreme Court case. If the two remaining aggravating circumstances were reconsidered alongside the factors in his favor, a jury would not have reached a verdict of death, he said.

But the court majority of five justices said after review that the jury would not have changed its verdict of death and denied Castillo’s petition.

The court majority said it is “confident that the jury would have concluded that the mitigating circumstances did not outweigh the valid aggravating circumstances.”

Justice Michael Cherry dissented, saying he would give Castillo a new penalty hearing in front of a jury rather than “have this court determine whether to impose the death penalty on a ‘cold record.’ ”

“My own experience in litigating death penalty cases tells me that there is a vast difference when a defendant is facing two aggravating circumstances rather than four aggravating circumstances,” he said in his brief dissent.

The two remaining aggravating circumstances were that Castillo was previously convicted of a felony involving the use or threat of use of violence and that he committed the murder to avoid lawful arrest.

“I am seriously troubled by the majority’s conclusion that beyond a reasonable doubt the jury would have returned a death sentence after considering the evidence as a whole,” Cherry said.

Castillo was convicted and sentenced after breaking into Berndt’s home, hitting her with a tire iron and then smothering her with a pillow while she was asleep. He later returned and set the house on fire.

Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at or 775-687-3900. Follow him on Twitter @seanw801.

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