Las Vegas Sun

December 18, 2014

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Death penalty upheld for man in Las Vegas hammer killings

CARSON CITY — The Nevada Supreme Court, in a 5-2 decision, has upheld the murder conviction and death penalty sentence for Thomas Richardson in the hammer slaying and robbery of two people in Las Vegas.

Richardson and Robert Dehnart agreed in September 2005 to rob and murder Steve Folker, who was at the home of Estelle Feldman, also killed with hammer blows to the head, records show.

Dehnart, who was the 18-year old son of Richardson’s girlfriend, agreed to testify against Richardson as part of a plea deal. He was sentenced to 20 to 50 years for first-degree murder and a consecutive 4 to 30 year term for robbery.

Chief Justice Michael Cherry dissented in the ruling, saying evidence against Richardson “was not overwhelming” and errors at trial required the conviction be overturned and a new trial ordered. Justice Nancy Saitta agreed with Cherry.

Richardson maintained he was in California at the time of the murders.

But the court’s majority opinion said the trial testimony of Dehnart “is sufficiently corroborated,” and substantial evidence supports the jury verdict.

The court said District Court Judge Michelle Leavitt was wrong in not permitting the defense in closing arguments to maintain Dehnart was lying to receive a lighter sentence.

But the court called it harmless error.

Cherry, in his dissent, said defense attorneys should have been allowed to argue that Richardson had returned to California before the time of the murder.

“As there was conflicting evidence of this crucial fact and no physical evidence placing Richardson in the home or even in the state at the time of the murders, (defense) counsel’s argument became much more vital to the defense,” Cherry wrote.

Cherry also wrote that evidence at the crime scene was mishandled, and a replica of the hammer used in the killing should not have been introduced at the trial.

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