The Nevada Supreme Court on Thursday ruled the Clark County district attorney's office had no right to change its entire argument for a death sentence in the rehearing of an 18-year-old case.
Edward Bennett was convicted of the 1988 killing of a Las Vegas woman during a burglary.
A new penalty hearing had already been ordered for other reasons. But prosecutors said since a recent high court ruling eliminated two of their three original "aggravating circumstances" to support a death sentence, they should be allowed to put in three new aggravating circumstances to try reinstate the death sentence.
The district court agreed but the Supreme Court rejected the argument. In an opinion by Chief Justice Nancy Becker and signed by the other six justices, the court ruled that "an opinion by this court in itself does not provide the state with good cause ... to file an amended notice alleging new aggravating circumstances against a defendant."
The opinion last year in the McConnell case ruled prosecutors could no longer try someone for felony murder - that is murder committed during the commission of another felony such as robbery or burglary - then use that same robbery or burglary as an aggravating circumstance to support a death sentence.
In addition, the court upheld the conviction of a Las Vegas man who murdered two women and wounded a third by shooting them in the head.
Alfonso Manuel Blake was convicted of two counts of murder and one of attempted murder and sentenced to death by a Las Vegas jury in 2003. His challenge centered on the trial judge's decision to allow questioning about Blake's past violent behavior after a psychiatric witness testified the defendant wasn't a violent man. That questioning revealed a series of past instances where Blake became violent including a stabbing and hitting a man with a baseball bat.
The court found no serious errors in the handling of the trial and wrote that "Blake deliberately and systematically shot three young women in the head."
"His evidence in mitigation carried little weight," the opinion concludes. "We conclude that considering Blake and his crime, the sentence of death is not excessive."
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