CARSON CITY — The crimes occurred 23 years ago but the case of Dale Flanagan, a Las Vegas man sentenced to death for his role in the killing of his grandparents, was again before the Supreme Court on Tuesday.
Attorney Robert Newell raised a number of issues on Flanagan’s behalf during an hour-long hearing, telling the court the best course of action would be to give his client a new trial in the killing of Carl Gordon, 58, and Colleen Gordon, 57, in 1984.
Flanagan and Randy Moore, one of his accomplices in the crime, were both sentenced to death by a jury. Two others received lesser sentences. Prosecutors said at the original trial that the crimes were committed so Flanagan could collect an inheritance
Due to errors, the first two death penalty verdicts for Flanagan and Moore were ultimately vacated by the state Supreme Court. Flanagan and Moore were sentenced to death a third time by a new jury in 1995. That sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court a year later.
The latest hearing was to consider a number of post-conviction claims, including whether Flanagan received effective legal representation at his trial and whether some of the aggravating circumstances used to sentence him to death in the third sentencing hearing were improperly applied.
Newell argued for a new trial, citing evidence undisclosed to the defense that Flanagan did not actually commit either murder, and for a new penalty hearing because of the aggravating circumstances considered by the jury in sentencing him to death.
Steve Owens, chief deputy district attorney for Clark County, argued that any new issues arising from the original 1985 trial, including ineffective assistance of counsel, should be barred. Flanagan’s guilt phase was finalized in 1988, and the court should not consider any such issues so many years later, he said.
As to aggravating circumstances used to sentence Flanagan to death a third time around, Owens acknowledged that two of the four should likely be eliminated due to an earlier ruling by the Supreme Court in another death penalty case. But even if robbery and burglary were eliminated, the other two, financial gain and the risk of death to more than one person, should stand, he said.
The court should use a “harmless error” analysis, which would show that the jury would have returned a verdict of death even with only two aggravating circumstances, Owens said.
“Dale Flanagan has had more than his fair shake here,” Owens said.
The first death sentence for both Flanagan and Moore was reversed by the Supreme Court due to misconduct by Dan Seaton, one of the prosecutors.
The second death sentence was ultimately overturned because of improper references to Satan worship by the men.
The second sentence was originally upheld in Nevada, but the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the state court to reconsider. The Nevada Supreme Court then ruled that the Satan worship information was unrelated to the crime and should not have been considered at the penalty hearing.
Owens told the court that if it orders another penalty hearing, Flanagan will be given the death sentence by a fourth jury.
Evidence at the 1985 trial showed that Flanagan killed his grandmother with a .22-caliber pistol. Evidence also showed Moore killed Carl Gordon with a .22-caliber rifle.
Flanagan, now 42, was 19 at the time.
The court will rule later in the case.