Sparks man guilty of killing judge's ex

RENO - A Sparks man has been found guilty of first-degree murder in the shooting death of the former husband of a Sparks justice of the peace.

Jerry Harkins, 55, could receive a life sentence when sentenced March 11 by Judge Brent Adams.

A Washoe County District Court jury deliberated for nearly 10 hours Tuesday before returning the verdict at about 10:20 p.m.

A prosecutor told the jury Harkins had parked blocks away, slipped on latex gloves, loaded his gun and, with willful intent, walked into Miles Deriso's house and shot him.

"This was an execution, pure and simple," Chief Deputy District Attorney Dan Greco said of the Dec. 1, 2003, killing of the 44-year-old former spouse of Justice of the Peace Susan Deriso.

She and the couple's four sons appeared glad after the verdict was read. The marriage ended in divorce in September 2003 after 24 years.

Carl Hylin, Harkins' lawyer, had urged the jury to believe the story his client told from the witness stand Monday: that Harkins and Deriso became embroiled in a drunken brawl and Harkins fired the shot after being stabbed.

The shooting was self-defense, and Harkins should be acquitted, Hylin said.

"If Jerry planned to kill Miles, why get in two fights with him? Why not walk in and just shoot him?" Hylin asked.

"He didn't walk in and shoot him. He went in to deliver some pills. There was no intent to kill him," Hylin said. "I believe self-defense is the option; murder is not."

Harkins and his partner, Cathy Langdahl, knew Susan and Miles Deriso through Langdahl's work at the Sparks Flower Bucket and through their children, according to testimony at the weeklong trial.

The Deriso's marriage was failing and Harkins stepped in to "fix things" the way they do in Texas, Greco said.

After Harkins went to Deriso's house, the men fought before Harkins left quickly and Deriso yelled that he was chicken, Greco said.

"He had to take revenge," Greco told the jurors. "It wounded his pride and he wanted to have the last word in this process."

So Harkins got his gun from his van, shot Deriso, then tossed the gun in the trash, he said.


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