The homeless man accused in the killing that was cited as the reason for closing Huntridge Circle Park accepted a plea deal moments before his trial was to start Thursday.
Brian Jason Thrasher, 42, entered an Alford plea to voluntary manslaughter with use of a deadly weapon for the death of his fellow transient Chris Robinson, 38. Thrasher stabbed him during a brawl between the two Nov. 24 at the park on Maryland Parkway near Charleston Boulevard.
An Alford plea is not an admission of guilt but an acknowledgement that prosecutors have enough evidence to prove their charge.
Prosecutor Frank Coumou said he thought the plea bargain that reduced the charge against Thrasher was a good resolution because the jury might have believed his self-defense claim and found him not guilty.
Thrasher faces two to 20 years in prison but could receive probation when District Judge Lee Gates sentences him Aug. 15. Had the jury convicted Thrasher of first-degree murder he could have been sentenced to life in prison.
Witnesses said the fight was over Thrasher’s destruction of park sprinklers.
Thrasher was known as "Cat Man" in homeless circles because he kept two cats with him in a pet carrier. He became upset Nov. 23 when the sprinklers in the park soaked his belongings and his pets.
"The sprinklers came on at a time they weren’t supposed to come on," said Thrasher’s defense lawyer, Andrea Luem.
Thrasher broke several sprinkler heads, and "that, in turn, upset a lot of homeless people in the park," Luem said.
They feared the damaged sprinklers would give Las Vegas city officials another argument for banishing the homeless from the park.
The city closed the park shortly after the slaying, and Las Vegas City Manager Doug Selby cited the killing as a reason.
Luem said Thrasher killed Robinson in self-defense. She said she had witnesses who would have testified at trial that Robinson had threatened to stomp on Thrasher’s head and "kick his ass."
On the day after Thrasher broke the sprinkler heads, the two men argued. Robinson tried to kick Thrasher in the head and missed, falling on Thrasher, Luem said. The two fought, and Thrasher pulled an 8-inch hunting knife from his bag.
"The defendant stabbed the victim six times, twice in the chest and four times in the back," prosecutor Danielle Pieper said.
Luem said that "only one was a fatal stab wound," a puncture wound to the heart that the Clark County coroner’s office determined killed Robinson.
"The other wounds are clearly just Brian trying to get him (Robinson) off him," Luem said.