Las Vegas Sun

October 1, 2014

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State high court asked to overturn death penalty

CARSON CITY -- A defense lawyer told the Nevada Supreme Court that the murder conviction and death penalty given to Las Vegas killer Antoine Williams should be reversed because his confession was improperly admitted at the trial.

Clark County Deputy Public Defender Virginia Eichacker argued that Williams, after his arrest, asked for and never received an attorney and then he admitted he killed 74-year-old William Nail and his 72-year-old wife, Alice, in September 1994.

But Chief Deputy District Attorney David Roger argued that two Metro Police officers who interviewed Williams never heard him ask for a lawyer. Roger said District Judge Joseph Bonaventure listened to arguments before the trial and decided that the detectives were more credible.

Supreme Court Justice Bob Rose told Eichacker it was "pretty clear" the judge found the statements of the officers more believable.

The court took the arguments under submission and will rule at a later date.

Eichacker also argued that even if the confession was voluntary, he was under the "perception" that his statement would be used in his best interest. She said, "At no time did the officers correct the misperception that the statement would not be used in his best interest."

Roger said, however, that Williams knew about his rights to a lawyer and made the statements voluntarily.

Williams had gone to the Nails' home to borrow money to finance a cocaine habit. When the husband refused to loan him $20, Williams strangled him with an electric cord and then stomped on his head, crushing his skull. Williams then strangled the wife, stabbed her in the neck and also kicked her in the head.

He then took jewelry, a wallet, a purse and other items from the home and used them to purchase drugs. He was later arrested driving a stolen car in the company of a prostitute. Drugs were found in the car and other items tied him to the murders.

Eichacker suggested that Williams' rights were prejudiced when he had to go before a three-judge panel for sentencing. A District Court jury found him guilty of first-degree murder but could not agree on a penalty. The panel of judges was then selected to decide the penalty.

Eichacker said Williams had a right to a jury to decide the penalty. She said a defendant in this situation is provided no opportunity to challenge the method of selecting the judges or to question the judges on how they feel about the death penalty, as is available with a jury.

The court has upheld the system of a three-judge panel to decide the penalty when a suspect has pleaded guilty to murder, Roger said. Justice Cliff Young noted, however, that this was not a case where Williams pleaded guilty.

Eichacker also contended the district attorney's office was guilty of misconduct in its statements to the jury. She suggested the prosecutors -- District Attorney Stewart Bell and Roger -- "called for revenge" in their statements urging the death penalty to the jury. This, she said, "exceeds the bounds of proper advocacy."

But Roger said the defense made an "emotional" argument to the jury, calling for mercy for Williams. Roger said that allowed him to tell the jurors they should not show mercy in this case.

"We try to keep the arguments as sterile as possible in front of juries," said Roger, noting that the Supreme Court has been tough in the past on prosecutors who make prejudicial remarks in their closing arguments.

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