RENO — The jury is expected to begin deliberations in James Biela’s rape and murder trial today after his public defenders abruptly ended presentation of their case with the calling of only one expert witness about DNA evidence.
The judge said he anticipates the case going to the jury this afternoon after closing arguments from both sides in the trial that began 12 days ago.
“Sooner than I thought, we are done with the evidence in the first part of this case,” District Judge Robert Perry said before sending the jury home Tuesday.
Biela, 28, a pipe fitter, told the judge earlier Tuesday that he wanted to testify but decided against it on the advice of his attorneys. He’s accused of raping and murdering Brianna Denison and sexually assaulting two other women in a string of attacks from October 2007 to January 2008 on the edge of the campus of the University of Nevada, Reno. He also faces a kidnapping charge.
Denison, 19, a Reno High graduate, was on winter break from Santa Barbara City College when she was abducted while sleeping on a friend’s couch near the UNR campus on Jan. 20, 2008.
Her body clad only in socks was found three weeks later in a vacant lot across the street from the workplace of Biela’s ex-girlfriend and mother of his child, Carleen Harmon.
Prosecutors spent nearly two weeks calling witnesses and presenting evidence, including DNA tests they say conclusively connect Biela to both the scene of the kidnapping and the site where Denison’s body was dumped along.
Biela had refused to provide detectives with his DNA, but Harmon allowed them to take samples from their son, which were used to make what prosecutors say is a conclusive match.
Harmon testified on Tuesday that she found women’s thong underwear in Biela’s truck during a search spurred by suspicions he was having an affair.
The day began with the jury outside the courtroom when Perry asked Biela whether he intended to testify.
Biela initially said, “Yes.”
But after the judge questioned him on his knowledge of his rights and asked whether he had made an educated decision based in part on the advice of his attorneys, Biela answered, “I guess so.”
Pressed by the judge about whether he still wanted to testify, Biela said, “I guess not.”
“I just want to say I would like to. I just was advised not to, so I’ll follow their advice not to do it,” he said.