Las Vegas Sun

March 29, 2017

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Attorney wants mistrial for death row inmate over juror questioning

CARSON CITY – A defense attorney for death row inmate James R. Walker says a mistrial should have been granted in Las Vegas when the only black juror was questioned by the prosecution about race issues.

JoNell Thomas, deputy special public defender, told the Nevada Supreme Court that questions about race can be asked but one black juror can't be singled out for the questions.

Thomas and Alzora B. Jackson, a deputy special public defender, are seeking to have the verdict and the death penalty overturned. But Steven Owens, chief deputy district attorney in Clark County, said there was no misconduct in the questioning and “this was not a close case as far as the evidence showed.”

Walker, now 53 and serving his sentence at the state prison in Ely, was convicted of the stabbing death of Christine Anziano, who suffered 28 injuries. She was stabbed as she exited a grocery store near Lamb and Bonanza on Aug. 23, 2003. He took her purse.

Walker, who is black, was also found guilty of the robbery and stabbing of Kirk Lohe, whose throat was cut 10-14 times. But Lohe survived.

A co-defendant, Myrdus Archie, accused of driving the getaway car, was convicted of second-degree murder. Archie, 57, and with 16 known aliases, is confined to the Florence McClure Women’s Correctional Center and is serving time on multiple offenses. Her case was not before the court.

There are 82 men on death row and the last execution was in April 2006.

Thomas said the prosecution asked the black juror if he would feel ridicule from the black community if he voted to put Walker to death.

Justice Michael Cherry told Thomas that in the 1970s questions were allowed about race. But Thomas said in this case, the lone black juror was singled out and the white jurors were not asked similar questions.

Owens said the juror did not take offense to the question and he was excluded from the jury for other reasons. He said the juror had 14 relatives of which only three were not in prison and the juror also had a personal relationship with the defense lawyer.

Jackson argued the trial judge, Valerie Adair, should have granted a defense motion to separate the trial of Walker and Archie. She said the defense attorney painted Archie as an innocent bystander. Archie did not testify but the defense lawyer indicated she was present at the crime scenes and that Walker was there.

Owens said, however, a separate trial for the two “would have been a total waste of time.” He said the same witnesses would have been called and the same evidence presented.

Thomas said a jury instruction should have been given that Walker was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Owens said there was no evidence presented at trial to back up the defendant was intoxicated or under the influence of drugs.

Owens characterized Walker as a “very violent individual.” He said Walker was convicted in 1978 of shooting and wounding a man and 10 years later committed battery on a prison guard.

The court took the hour-long arguments under study and will rule later.

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