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August 23, 2014

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Metro comes under fire from team defending suspect in decades-old slayings

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Steve Marcus

Nathaniel Burkett appears in court at the Regional Justice Center Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012. Burkett is suspected of killing two Las Vegas women. A preliminary hearing was set for Oct. 5.

Updated Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012 | 3:30 p.m.

Preliminary Hearing Set For Burkett

Nathaniel Burkett, right, speaks with Special Public Defender Alzora Jackson in court at the Regional Justice Center Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012.  Burkett now is suspected of killing three Las Vegas women decades ago. Launch slideshow »

Lawyers for a man accused of the decades-old slayings of two women in Las Vegas want a judge to restrict information released by Metro Police, saying the suspect is being vilified before standing trial.

Nathaniel Burkett, who is charged in the deaths of Barbara Ann Cox, 22, and Tina Mitchell, 27, is “being called an animal, a rabid dog,” defense attorney Alzora Jackson said Thursday morning in Las Vegas Justice Court.

Metro Police have labeled Burkett, 62, as a “potential serial killer.” He was arrested earlier this month in Mississippi after DNA evidence tied him to both crimes.

Jackson, who nodded toward reporters while asking Justice of the Peace Eric A. Goodman to consider the motion to limit pretrial publicity, took issue with a Metro video posted to YouTube announcing Burkett’s arrest.

The video, which has more than 2,000 views, shows photographs of Burkett, Cox and Mitchell. At one point, it includes text that says, “With the help of new DNA evidence, their killer is now under arrest.” By early afternoon Thursday, the video had been taken off Metro’s YouTube page. Viewers trying to play the video now receive a message, "This video is private."

The defense wants to ban prosecutors and law enforcement officials from making “extrajudicial statements,” or comments outside the courtroom, that it deems improper under the state’s rules of professional conduct, according to the motion.

The motion asserts that police calling Burkett an “animal” or “serial killer” — without a legitimate law enforcement purpose for doing so — heightens public condemnation of him.

“Burkett was already in custody at the time these statements were made, and so there is no public safety rationale for warning the public that Burkett is a ‘serial killer’ or an ‘animal,’” the motion states.

In the motion, the defense calls Metro’s statements a “slick media campaign” that will prevent Burkett from receiving a fair trial.

In court Thursday morning, Goodman read the motion, which would indirectly impact media, and made it clear he’s not in favor of limiting media exposure in the case.

“I am not inclined to limit the press in any way whatsoever in this case or in any other case,” he said. “That’s just not what we do in this country.”

Goodman said the media and Metro should have time to respond to the motion and continued the hearing until Friday morning.

Jackson and Chief Deputy District Attorney Marc DiGiacomo also discussed with Goodman a date for a preliminary hearing. Jackson, representing Burkett with David Schieck, also a special public defender, said they need more time to gather evidence from the prosecution.

Goodman set Burkett’s preliminary hearing for Oct. 5.

Burkett, who sat in a wheelchair with his hands and feet shackled, whispered with Jackson occasionally throughout his court appearance. Burkett has been charged with two counts each of murder and sexual assault in connection with the deaths of Cox and Mitchell.

Police said Cox’s was found strangled April 22, 1978, at an apartment complex in the 200 block of West Bonanza Road. More than a decade later, on Feb. 2, 1994, Mitchell was discovered strangled at an apartment complex in the 900 block of H Street, about a half mile from where Cox’s body was found.

Burkett has a criminal history that includes two manslaughter convictions. In 1982, he was convicted of manslaughter in Mississippi.

In Nevada, he served six years of a 115-month sentence after being convicted of voluntary manslaughter for the 2002 death of Valetter Jean Bousley. The 41-year-old was found strangled to death in the 1300 block of F Street.

Burkett remains in custody at the Clark County Detention Center without bail.

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  1. I thought DNA was stronger than a lawyer. This guy is no Saint and has wasted taxpayer dollars along with killing a couple people. Maybe Metro should claim freedom of speech and counter sue!

  2. well said Peter......