Murderer Karen Bodden's lawyer testified Thursday that he believed his client would be convicted of killing her husband despite a lack of evidence because of statements she made at the time of her arrest.
James E. Wilson, now a Carson City District Court judge, testified on the second day of a hearing in which Bodden is seeking a new trial alleging ineffective counsel.
Bodden, 49, was convicted by a jury of murdering her husband, Minden airplane mechanic Robin Bodden, 50, in August 2006.
Bodden did not testify during the two-week trial in January 2008. According to investigators' reports, she claimed her husband had gone off with a pilot named "Ramos" to work for a drug cartel. She said she didn't report him missing because they were having marital problems.
"I never asked her to tell me her side of the story," Wilson said Thursday. "It was in the context of the discovery - 'Do you dispute this? What's your recollection?'
"She denied it (the murder) from the first time I saw her and never changed it. I believe the statements she made were strong enough to convict her of first-degree murder."
There were no witnesses to the murder, and the weapon used in the crime was never found.
District Judge David Gamble sentenced Bodden in March 2008 to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 20 years and a minimum of four years of a 10-year enhancement for use of a deadly weapon, to be served consecutively.
She is incarcerated at the Florence McClure Women's Correctional Center in North Las Vegas.
Now represented by Reno attorney Marc Picker, Bodden filed a writ of habeas corpus alleging ineffective counsel.
A Douglas County jury deliberated just two hours before finding Bodden guilty of first-degree murder, a fact Picker noted in his motion to the court.
"The only offered defense was the evidentiary weakness of the state's case, apparently on the misguided assumption that the jury would evaluate the evidence in the petitioner's (Bodden) favor without any alternative explanation," Picker wrote.
Because the jury deliberated two hours following a two-week trial, "it is clear the assumption was completely misguided," he wrote.
Bodden was represented by Wilson and Carson City attorney Erik Johnson.
Wilson said Thursday he had two options: To find holes in the state's case; or present Bodden's story "which I had very little evidence to support."
Authorities believed she shot her husband at his Minden-Tahoe Airport hangar, drove his body to the desert near Johnson Lane, and dumped him in a shallow grave.
Records indicate he died Aug. 15-16, 2006, and his decomposed body was found three weeks later on Sept. 10, 2006.
Karen Bodden was accused of embezzling money from his business, General Aviation Services. She was on five years probation from a 2004 conviction for embezzling $44,000 from the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Investigators believe she murdered him because she was afraid he would turn her in for the new embezzlement.
A week after her trial, Bodden sought a new trial from Gamble who denied her request.
Her next stop was the Nevada Supreme Court in February 2010 where a three-judge panel unanimously upheld her conviction.
Picker asked Wilson on Thursday why he waited until just a few weeks before Bodden's trial to seek a psychiatric evaluation.
Wilson said he saw no signs of Bodden's inability to aid in her defense, but was concerned about allegations from the 1990s where she allegedly filed false police reports which portrayed her as a crime victim.
"It was essentially a 'cover my behind,'" Wilson said. "I made my best effort not to leave any stone unturned. I think it was late because it didn't occur to me."
"You didn't know what the results would be," Picker said. "You were pretty set on the trial strategy, and it wouldn't matter what the (evaluation) said."
Reno psychiatrist Melissa Piasecki testified Wednesday that she evaluated Bodden after her conviction, administering the same test she took prior to her trial.
She said with the limited information of the original psychiatrist, she would have been unable to arrive at a opinion about Bodden or issue a report.
Johnson testified Wednesday that he agreed to assist Wilson with the defense. He learned of the case from his landlords, Joan and Belmont Reid, who were customers of Bodden's pond business.
He joined Bodden's defense in November 2007, more than a year after Wilson took the case.
On Dec. 19, 2007, Johnson said the district attorney's office made an offer to have Bodden plead guilty to second degree murder without the deadly weapon enhancement.
"We had just acquired some new DNA evidence (from the state). Mr. Wilson told her about that. We have this settlement offer. There was a deadline. Basically it was kind of last chance. She was adamant she wasn't going to plead guilty to anything," Johnson said.
"Were you trying to tell Ms. Bodden in so many words she was going to be found guilty?" Picker asked.
"She indicated she felt she was going to spend the rest of her life in prison," Johnson said.
Johnson said Wilson decided there would not be an affirmative defense, that is "talking about where she was, what she was doing" in the timeframe of the murder.
"I remember telling him (Wilson) the 'Nyah, nyah, nyah, you can't prove it' wasn't going to work. He wasn't receptive. He was in charge," Johnson said.
Johnson said in the middle of the trial he proposed putting on defense witnesses who could offer alibis as to Bodden's whereabouts when the murder allegedly took place.
"I spoke up. I said we have witnesses, I think we should hear what happened around the time of the killing," Johnson said.
He said the lawyers asked Bodden what she wanted to do.
"She kind of like panicked. It was too little, too late to change the plan. I said it may well work and backed off," Johnson said.
Witnesses in the hearing included two of Bodden's children and former clients of her pond business.