Murder rule needs clarification by court |

Murder rule needs clarification by court

The Nevada Supreme Court needs to throw out or clarify the so-called “felony murder rule,” and do it soon, so two closely watched trials in Carson City can get under way.

The two cases involve the Aug. 23, 1998, death of Sammy Resendiz, for which 10 defendants are awaiting trial; and the Aug. 5, 2000, death of Rick Albrecht, in which Anthony Echols is accused of murder.

It is unconscionable that the Resendiz homicide will mark a third anniversary this summer seemingly no closer to resolution than it was two years ago.

We can only imagine the strain on all involved as they wait patiently for Nevada’s legal system to grind out some semblance of justice. And we can only hope the Albrecht homicide will not be dragged out for any similar length.

Both cases are hung up on the same issue.

The Carson City District Attorney’s Office charged defendants with what has been described as “competing theories” in the murders.

The DA’s office isn’t to be faulted, as prosecutors try to use the law to their advantage. But the issue has been sitting now before the Supreme Court for, it seems, an eternity.

In essence, prosecutors argued that each homicide occurred during the commission of a burglary. Under Nevada law, they claimed, the murders fall under the felony-murder rule.

On the other hand, prosecutors also claimed that the homicides were committed with “deliberation and premeditation,” making them first-degree murders, which are often more difficult to prove.

Former Judge Michael Fondi ruled in Febrary 2000 that prosecutors couldn’t have it both ways. If a homicide is committed in the course of a burglary, he reasoned, then it must not have been premeditated. That decision was appealed.

This week, Judge Bill Maddox dismissed a similar charge in the Echols case because the Supreme Court hasn’t ruled on the issue from the Resendiz case.

We realize this is a complicated legal issue – more complex than we’ve summarized here – but that’s really no excuse for letting it drag on. Justice delayed, as they say, is justice denied.

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