Ninth Circuit Overturns 1983 Conviction for the Murder to Two Girls

bilde3113301Prosecutorial misconduct has led to one of Nevada’s most infamous cases being overturned. An appellate panel overturned the death sentence of Ricky David Sechrest for the murder of Maggie Schindler, 10, and Carly Villa, 9, in 1983 over statements made by then-District Attorney Mills Lane. Lane is well-known to many as a syndicated television judge and a referee.


Lane repeatedly told the jury that, if they didn’t sentence Sechrest to death, he could be released by the parole board as early as the day following their sentence. It was a lie. If he was not given a death sentence, state law would have mandated a life sentence.

The opinion written by Circuit Judge Harry Pregerson stated “A prosecutor’s misleading and inflammatory arguments may violate a defendant’s due process right to a fair trial . . . the prosecutor repeatedly misled the jurors by suggesting that a decision by the Board of Pardon Commissioners could (and likely would) free Sechrest if the jury did not return a verdict imposing the death sentence. . . . The rule has always been that neither prosecutors nor defense lawyers can misstate the law in their arguments to a jury.” For a copy of the opinion, click here.

I would expect Nevada to appeal to either the en banc or the Supreme Court or both. However, if left unchanged, this case could offer some real deterrence for this form of prosecutorial misconduct. There is an impression that some prosecutors engage in prejudicial statements in closing arguments because they know that courts are unlikely to overturn a case on such misconduct. This case proves that calculus wrong.

Lane is now crippled from a stroke. Like other television personalities like Nancy Grace, Lane’s practice may have been less stellar than his persona. What is astonishing is that, with two dead girls, Lane did not have to try to subvert the jury deliberations. Sometimes, prosecutors will so need a verdict in a high profile case that they will try such improper arguments to guarantee the result in an already strong case. For an ambitious prosecutor, the temptation can be simply too great to resist.
For the full story, click here.

8 thoughts on “Ninth Circuit Overturns 1983 Conviction for the Murder to Two Girls

  1. I certainly empathize with you regarding the death of your sister.

    I had a beautiful niece, an aspiring model, who was killed by a millionaire serial murderer who stalked young women at beauty pageants and during professional photography shoots. Fortunately, he was killed by an alert LEO who was shot in the abdomen in a close battle with the rapist/murderer. Had the murderer not been killed, he would most likely still be in prison receiving good treatment by society. That is why lawyers, who violate legal ethics, such as in this case, must be severely punished themselves. They must be censured enough to prevent future abuses of their legal powers which might eventually lead to the release of killers such as Sechrest.

    My sister has never gotten over—and will never recover fully from—the effects of the brutal rape, torture, and horrifying death of her daughter, whose decomposed body was found by a sheepherder in a remote location over a month later. The local, state, and federal LEOs, especially the FBI, completely botched the capture of the rapist because of turf battles and professional jealousies. Their incompetence likely contributed to my niece’s death. I was a federal law enforcement officer at the time, but without any jurisdiction, and all I could do was wait and support my sister all that I could.

    One tragic irony of this case was that the murderer had my niece with him when they passed through a border inspection station check point—one that I passed through weekly—and because the FBI insisted on jurisdiction and secrecy, information regarding the murderer and my niece was not disseminated to all law enforcement agencies within the 4-state area where the couple had been seen. Of course, incompetent officers are never punished or reprimanded for their foul-ups.

    This is one of the many reasons I am a strong, unwavering proponent of the death penalty when there is no doubt whatsoever of guilt (far beyond the legal threshold of beyond a reasonable doubt). Until someone experiences the direct pain and lifelong suffering resulting from such tragic events as you and your family and my family have experienced, then they just cannot understand the depth of despair. Any person, man or woman, who commits such acts as Sechrest committed has lost all rights to live in the care of a society with which he has immeasurably harmed. The man who murdered my niece had killed at least 8 other women and he was implicated in many other unsolved rapes/murders. He had fallen through the cracks of justice and the incompetency of a judicial system that let him go free one too many times.

  2. herlittlesister:

    There is nothing I can say to alleviate the pain you must still feel and the justifiable anger caused by your terrible loss. I share your outrage at this monstrous act and at the perpetrator who likely sat on death row until this decision. I must say though that this case was a terrible commentary on our system and quite frankly the people who prosecuted and defended it along with some rather strange aiding and abetting from the Judge who passively allowed this travesty to occur. The prosecutor’s outrageous conduct was equaled only by the incompetency of the defendant’s counsel which rendered the entire proceeding a farce. That is not your fault and the people involved owed you better–much better. As difficult as it is to accept, your sister’s killer will get a new trial on certain guilt issues and on the sentencing. He will have new counsel,and a new prosecutor, and if justice means anything at all–the same result will occur. I know that justice delayed is justice denied for little Carly and Maggie, but take some comfort from the fact that we all share your loss and mourn for the victims and the system that so miserably failed them both. I wish you and your family well.

  3. I UNDERSTAND THERE ARE LAWS AND THEY MUST BE FOLLOWED, BUT THIS MAN MURDERED TWO LITTLE GIRLS, ONE OF WHICH WAS MY OLDER SISTER, CARLY. HE DIDNT FOLLOW THE LAW. HE DIDNT ALLOW THEM ANY RIGHT. HE KIDNAPPED, AND KILLED THEM, AND OTHER HORRIBLE THINGS. SO BECAUSE THINGS WERE SAID THAT SHOULDNT HAVE, MY FAMILY HAS TO WORRY THAT HE MIGHT HAVE THE POSSIBLITY OF GETTING OUT LET ALONE HE WONT BE PUT TO DEATH. DO YOU KNOW WHAT ITS LIKE TO SEE YOU MOM EVERYDAY AND NO MATTER HOW HAPPY SHE MAY SEEM YOU CAN STILL SEE HOW MUCH SHE STILL HURTS INSIDE?? MY BROTHER COULDNT EVEN BARE TO LIVE AT HOME ANYMORE WHEN MY LITTLE SISTER WAS BORN, AFFRAID HE WASNT GOING TO BE ABLE TO PROTECT TWO LITTLE SISTERS? THAT “MAN” GETS TO SIT IN JAIL, HAVE A ROOF OVER HIS HEAD, A WARM PLACE TO SLEEP, FOOD AT EVERY MEAL. WHILE WE WORK EVERYDAY TO PAY TAXES TO TAKE CARE OF WORTHLESS PEOPLE LIKE HIM.

  4. JT:

    Worse still it was designed to impose Lane’s sense of justice on the trier of fact whose job it was to make that decisison with the candid assistance of the prosecutor. The Judge bears some responsibility too, but every man is responsible for own his own integrity. My law school professors called this “personal” advocacy, and it is as true today as then.

    FFLeo:

    Agree to 1 & 2. Will have to think about 3, but the answer is probably yes. There are State avenues of complaint for these excesses if they are habitual or so egregious as to undermine the process. I have always thought lawyers should have some sort of Bar approved demerit system with the results available to the public. Nothing tends to rein in the dark side of character like public view of the flaws.

  5. Given that 3 lawyers from different legal backgrounds have commented, would you agree to:

    1. censuring any trial lawyer clearly misrepresenting such legal facts in courts of law?

    2. disbarment if 2 or more such offenses occurred in separate trials?

    3. sanctions against presiding judges who condone such misrepresentations without warning attorneys of possible contempt charges if those continued and then not issuing a contempt citation if they continued?

    Does the ABA, or other judicial review boards, have codes of conduct and ethics rules violation standards that are enforceable against this type of professional legal misconduct?

    Having a case overturned ‘might’ temporarily harm an attorney’s trial competency reputation; however, such misconduct overwhelming damages the trust in the criminal justice system. All of the time and money spent to convict this person is lost and an appeal or subsequent trial will add to the burden of an already overtaxed legal system, especially since trial attorney misconduct in other cases likely results in many such re-trials or appeals. If attorneys knew that there were financial and legal consequences for this obvious unethical behavior, perhaps it would cease.

  6. Mespo:

    Whatever his later accomplishments on television, this is not some small error. The statement was clearly calculated to mislead the jury and circumvent their deliberations.

    JT

  7. Well as for the once ubiquitous Mr. Lane now sadly crippled with a stroke, it prove, as I suspected, that he was a much better Marine, boxer, and referee than he was a lawyer, prosecutor, or Judge. Funny how the loudest horns are usually the ones most off key.

  8. If the prosecutor made those statements, the appellate court was correct in overturning the conviction. It is unfortunate that if this guy was guilty of the heinous act, that he may be let go, but for everyone except George Bush, the law must be followed for any of us to have the proper safeguards in court.

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