After more than nine hours of deliberation, jurors on Thursday convicted Leonardo Cardoza of first-degree murder.
With a deadly weapon enhancement, that means he could face two life sentences without the possibility of parole in the death of Desiree Bragg.
Bragg was killed when Cardoza’s minivan crushed her against the wall of her mother’s home 13 months ago.
The conviction was the most serious of the options offered to the jury, and came despite the fact that the only witness testimony came in the form of a transcript from her fiancé, who testified at the preliminary hearing a year ago. Steven Castro didn’t testify because he was a fugitive until two days ago, when he was arrested and brought to Carson City. He wasn’t allowed to testify then because he was under the influence of methamphetamine and pot.
Earlier Thursday, Defense Attorney Jesse Kalter conceded that his client drove the car that killed Bragg, but he asked jurors to acquit Cardoza, saying Castro’s testimony was riddled with inconsistencies.
He had argued that the death was a tragedy but the result of an accident, not premeditated murder. He said his client was too intoxicated to form the intent necessary to prove first-degree murder and was simply trying to get away from Castro, whom he said was attacking him.
The verdict hung on whether jurors believed the transcript of Castro’s preliminary hearing testimony a year ago.
Kalter had argued Castro’s testimony was lacking a motive as to why he would want to kill the couple.
He said that according to Castro, his client “shows up at that intersection and goes nuts and road rages and tailgates them all the way across the city.”
Kalter argued that made no sense.
But Assistant District Attorney Mark Krueger and District Attorney Neil Rombardo argued that the motive was road rage because Cardoza was extremely drunk. His estimated blood-alcohol level at the time of the slaying was some three times the legal limit for drivers — a toxic amount that a Washoe crime lab expert said would put anybody except an alcoholic who had developed a high tolerance into a stupor.
Rombardo argued Thursday that Cardoza used his minivan as a weapon to deliberately target the victim and kill her.
“The defense wants you to believe his intoxication took away his intent,” he said. “He lived an intoxicated life. He can form intent while intoxicated.”
Rombardo also said there is no evidence to support Cardoza’s claim he was trying to escape Castro’s attacks when he put the vehicle in the wrong gear.
“There is not one piece of evidence he was struck before he ran down Desiree Bragg,” Rombardo said.
He charged that Cardoza’s version of events is illogical and that his claim he is just a social drinker makes even less sense given that he acknowledged having consumed 14 drinks that night, yet was described as sober by bartenders, deputies and even the paramedic who examined his injuries at the scene.
He said Cardoza’s version of what happened at the scene would have taken several minutes to unfold but that other witnesses, including Bragg’s mother and brother, said about 10 seconds passed between when the vehicles arrived and the van slammed into the house, killing Bragg.
“This was no accident. It was murder,” he said.
Cardoza also was convicted of attempted murder for trying to hit Castro when his car surged forward and crashed into Bragg’s mother’s house off of College Parkway that night.
Cardoza’s sentence on the first-degree-murder charge will be decided by the same jury that convicted him. The date for that deliberation will be set after attorneys and the judge meet this morning.