Las Vegas Sun

December 14, 2017

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Court rejects appeal in Las Vegas murder case

CARSON CITY — The Nevada Supreme Court today rejected the petition of Donte Johnson, sentenced to death for the 1998 execution-style killing of four men at a Las Vegas apartment during a robbery looking for cash and drugs.

Johnson, in his appeal, maintained there were 29 instances where his lawyers were ineffective in his trial and a previous appeal.

Chief Justice Michael Cherry wrote in a 25-page unanimous decision that “an attorney is not constitutionally deficient simply because another attorney would have taken a different approach.”

The ruling upheld the decision of the District Court, which denied all of Johnson’s claims.

Cherry said Johnson failed to demonstrate he received ineffective assistance of counsel at his 2000 jury trial or in related appeals.

Johnson, who was 18 years old at the time, was convicted of using duct tape to tie the feet and hands of the victims and shooting them in the head. Two other people were also convicted and received life terms without parole.

Johnson argued that his trial attorney should have presented evidence the other two defendants received lesser sentences. The prosecution said Johnson had a greater role in the crime.

The court said Johnson failed to show there would have been a different outcome if the defense presented arguments about the lesser sentences.

Johnson was initially convicted of murder, robbery, kidnapping and burglary, but the jury could not reach a decision on the penalty.

A three-judge panel was appointed to determine the penalty, and it approved the death sentence. That decision was overturned and the case went back to Las Vegas, where a jury imposed the death penalty.