RENO, Nev. — A lawyer for a Nevada man sentenced to death for the 2008 kidnapping, rape and killing of a 19-year-old former Mendocino County woman goes before a Washoe County judge next week in the latest attempt to overturn his convictions in one of the area's highest profile murder cases in decades.
The Nevada Supreme Court rejected James Biela's appeal in 2012 in the murder of Brianna Denison and sexual assault of two others on the campus of the University of Nevada, Reno.
Judge Scott Freeman set a status hearing for Thursday and an evidentiary hearing July 11 to consider what defense attorney Edward Reed says are more than 50 grounds for ordering a new trial.
Among other things, Reed says Biela's public defenders didn't adequately represent him, his Miranda rights were violated and the case should have been moved out of Reno because the extraordinary pre-trial publicity made it impossible to seat an impartial jury.
"Incredibly, no prospective juror had not heard about this case," Reed wrote in a 107-page supplemental filing seeking a new trial, or alternately a new sentencing hearing.
Washoe District Judge Robert Perry said when he sentenced Biela to death in June 2010 that the string of attacks had the entire city on edge.
Denison, a sophomore at Santa Barbara City College in California, was abducted in January 2008 while sleeping on a friend's couch at a residence near the Reno campus just north of the downtown casino district. About a month later, local TV stations broadcast the news conference live when Reno police announced they'd found her body in a field in south Reno.
Investigators said she was smothered with a pillow, then later raped and strangled with the strap of her best friend's thong underwear. They believed she was the victim of a serial rapist with a fetish for women's panties who had assaulted at least two other college students.
As a manhunt intensified, blue ribbons in honor of Denison appeared on fences, posters and lapels throughout the Reno area.
Biela, 34, a former Marine and pipefitter, was arrested that November following a tip from his former girlfriend. In addition to his death sentence, he received four life prison terms on charges related to the other assaults.
Reed filed initial motions to revisit the case in district court shortly after the Supreme Court rejected Biela's appeal in 2012. He submitted a supplemental motion in May 2015, and since then has been arguing with the district attorney about procedural matters, witnesses and the scope of testimony that will be allowed.
Biela's original lawyers made many of the same arguments in the Supreme Court appeal, but the justices said they had failed to raise timely objections during the trial.
Reed says a Reno police detective misled Biela around his right to remain silent when he read him his Miranda rights during an initial interrogation. Police videotape shows Det. David Jenkins told Biela:
"Even if you elect initially to talk to us you can change your mind at any time you want and we will honor your request immediately and if there is a specific question that you don't want to answer you can say I want to talk to you but don't want to talk to you about that and we will honor your request."
"The detective's rendition of Miranda was patently flawed," Reed said.