Reno murder trial moves out of courtroom and to accident scene
RENO (AP) – The trial of a former Incline Village man accused of killing his wife by staging a wreck near Lake Tahoe moved out of the courtroom and to the accident scene.
Friday’s 40-minute field trip to a side road off the Mount Rose Highway between Reno and Incline Village ended the third week of Peter Bergna’s trial in Washoe District Court.
Judge Brent Adams convened the proceeding with a court reporter by his side.
Chief Deputy District Attorney David Clifton requested the trip to give jurors a better idea of the June 1998 crash site. Until Friday, jurors had only seen pictures and a model of it.
”This gives them a three-dimensional vantage point of the crime scene,” he said. ”We tried to do that with models and pictures in the courtroom, but there’s really nothing that allows them to truly live the experience other than seeing it in person. It really hits home.”
The three male and nine female jurors, under court order not to talk at the crash site, peered at the sage-covered precipice where Rinette Riella-Bergna plunged 700 feet to her death in her husband’s pickup.
They gathered around three orange highway cones marking the spot where the truck crashed through a guardrail with the 49-year-old Incline Village woman seat-belted inside.
Peter Bergna, her husband of 11 years, stood nearby, talking with his three attorneys at the edge of the cliff.
The jurors peered at a yellow flag 700 feet below that marked where the pickup came to a rest.
Eighty feet from the top, a wooden retention beam marks the area where Peter Bergna was found with a broken foot and scratch on his head.
The 48-year-old art appraiser told investigators shortly after the crash that his brakes had failed and that he fell out the open driver’s side window.
The prosecution is expected to wrap up with its final witness Monday. Defense lawyers then will begin presenting their case.
Prosecutors contend Bergna steered the truck toward the guardrail and jumped to safety just as the truck went over the edge.
They say Bergna was unhappy in his marriage because his wife had switched from being a pharmacist to an international travel guide, a move that kept her away from home more and cut her income by about half.
Two women testified last week that Bergna asked them out for dates before his wife’s death. Two other women testified that Bergna complained about his wife’s travels a few days before the crash.
Bergna could face life in prison if convicted.
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SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Residents of El Dorado County will again be called for duty after the county paused jury trials due to COVID-19.