Bergna appeal denied
CARSON CITY – The Nevada Supreme Court on Monday rejected Peter Bergna’s appeal of his murder conviction, upholding the trial judge’s decision to admit a list of evidence he says unfairly prejudiced his case.
Bergna was convicted of killing his wife, Rinette, by driving the couple’s SUV off the Mount Rose Highway.
He claimed the vehicle had defective brakes and he couldn’t stop when it ran out of control and down a steep embankment. Bergna said he was thrown from the vehicle. The Washoe District Attorney’s Office charged he drove off the cliff and jumped at the last minute, leaving his wife to die in the wreck.
His first trial ended in a mistrial after jurors couldn’t agree on guilt or innocence. The second jury convicted him of murder.
Bergna’s lawyers protested the conviction wouldn’t have happened except for bad evidence the judge allowed, including testimony from his ex-wife that Bergna had a violent temper. The high court said that evidence was OK because Bergna’s lawyers offered character witnesses who said the defendant didn’t have a violent temper.
The defense argued the testimony was irrelevant because it occurred 16 years before the wreck.
The judge also allowed testimony that Bergna had made advances toward several other women within two months of his wife’s death. The court agreed that rebutted Bergna’s claims he was a loving and devoted husband.
The court upheld admission of testimony that suggested Bergna wasn’t grief-stricken by his wife’s death and refused to admit documents the defense says support his claims the model vehicle involved had well-known and serious brake problems that could have caused it to run out of control and through the guardrail.
The seven members of the court unanimously agreed Bergna’s arguments were without merit and that Washoe District Judge Brent Adams was within his discretion to make the rulings he did in the case.
The order upholds Bergna’s conviction for murder in the death of his wife.
At the same time, the high court issued an opinion rejecting Bergna’s claim he should be granted bail pending his appeals in the case. The court ruled it is the defendant’s burden to establish he will not flee or pose a danger to others in the community and that Bergna had not done so. That opinion was also signed by all seven members of the Nevada Supreme Court.