Court refuses to overturn murder conviction
CARSON CITY (AP) – The Nevada Supreme Court refused Thursday to overturn the conviction of a man sentenced to at least 40 years in prison for killing the former husband of a Sparks judge.
The high court ruled against Jerry Harkins, convicted of first-degree murder in the death of Miles Deriso, 44, divorced from Sparks Justice of the Peace Susan Deriso about two months before the December 2003 shooting.
On appeal, Harkins argued that Deriso’s identification of him as the man who shot him, made just before Deriso died, shouldn’t have been presented to jurors.
He also contended that a trial judge erred in not properly instructing jurors on self-defense theories.
Harkins claimed he shot Deriso in self-defense after the victim came at him with a knife. He said he had gone to Deriso’s house to give him some pain medication.
Prosecutors argued that the shooting was premeditated and intentional, and that Harkins, an ex-felon, had parked blocks away and slipped on a latex glove before walking into Deriso’s house and shooting him.
The Supreme Court concluded that the admission of Deriso’s dying statement didn’t violate Harkins’ constitutional rights. The high court also said that while the trial court erred in its self-defense jury instruction, the error was “harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The court’s opinion states that Harkins, who knew Deriso, had stopped by Deriso’s house several days before the shooting and had been asked by Deriso to give him some prescription pain pills. The night of the shooting, Harkins, who had been drinking, decided to deliver the drugs.
The court said the two got into an argument and, according to Harkins, Deriso slashed at him with a knife. Harkins left, but then got a .32-caliber gun from his van, put on a latex glove and returned to the house, justices said.
According to Harkins, Deriso immediately began attacking him and he fired one shot as he was falling backward. When he got up, he said Deriso was gone.
After being shot, Deriso ran to a neighbor’s house, who called 911. The neighbor, Wayne Whitton, asked who shot him, and Whitton said the victim told him, “Jerry shot me and he was paid to do it.”