A Carson City man will be sentenced April 21 for first-degree murder in the vehicle death of Desiree Bragg.
But instead of having the jury impose the sentence against Leonardo Cardoza, 28, both sides in the case agreed to have District Judge James Wilson make the decision — primarily because of jurors’ negative reaction when they were told that, normally in these types of cases, the jury chooses the penalty.
Wilson told jurors the statute provides the judge making the decisions as an alternative and that, therefore, they were released from the case.
Prosecutors and defense counsel agreed that, with witnesses, sentencing would take a full day.
The jury deliberated some nine hours Thursday, finally returning a verdict about 9:30 p.m. The first-degree murder conviction drew an emotional outburst from Cardoza’s mother, who had to be helped from the courtroom.
Cardoza could receive up to life in prison without possible parole when he’s sentenced, along with an additional 20 years for the deadly weapon enhancement.
Jurors found him guilty of premeditated murder for using his minivan to ram the victim, crushing her against the wall of her mother’s house off College Parkway.
Following the selection of a sentencing date and the release of the jury, Wilson called the victim’s fiancé, Steven Castro, to the courtroom.
Castro was to be the state’s key witness during the trial but fled to California. He finally was arrested this week and returned to Carson City, where prosecutors tried to put him on the stand. That was thwarted after defense counsel Jesse Kalter asked that Castro first be drug-tested to see whether he was sober. He tested positive for both methamphetamine and marijuana.
Castro told the court he had been told he was going to be charged in the case. He said he fled because “I didn’t want to get charged for something I didn’t do to the girl I loved.”
Assistant District Attorney Mark Krueger told the court Castro “was told nothing was going to happen to him.”
He said that when Castro was brought back from Yuba City, “the one question I asked him was, ‘Are you clean?’”
“He said yes, but as you know, he was wrong.”
Krueger said Castro “had a responsibility to his fiancé, as well as his (infant) son, to keep in contact with the court.”
Kalter, too, said Castro’s conduct was unacceptable.
“This was a willful contempt. He was out getting high and smoking marijuana,” he said.
Kalter said that without a penalty for Castro, lawyers like himself and the prosecution “have no leverage to get people into a courtroom.”
“I’m sorry for not being here for my fiancé,” Castro said. “To see her murdered right in front of me, I should have appeared.”
Judge Wilson said Castro’s failure “jeopardizes the fairness of the proceedings.” He sentenced Castro to 25 days in jail and a $500 fine for contempt.
That is on top of a pending probation violation and any other potential charges for drug use that may be filed.