LAS VEGAS (AP) — A jury in Nevada is hearing an unusually narrow question that will decide if a Las Vegas man can face the death penalty after pleading guilty to murder in the case of a 15-year-old high school sophomore who also was raped, tortured and mutilated.
Testimony resumed Monday for jurors being asked to decide if Javier Righetti’s attack on 15-year-old Alyssa Otremba was a premeditated act, which would make him eligible for the death penalty.
The Nevada Supreme Court ruled last month that Righetti’s plea to the murder charge was unacceptable because he didn’t specify that it was willful, deliberate and planned. Righetti also pleaded guilty to kidnapping, robbery and rape.
Premeditation is one of three legs of the prosecution theory supporting the murder charge. The others were that Otremba was tortured and that the murder occurred while she was kidnapped, robbed and raped.
Righetti was 19 at the time of the slaying and is 24 now. If sentenced to die, he would become the youngest inmate on death row in Nevada. His plea came with no promise he would not be put to death.
Righetti’s court-appointed defense attorney, Christy Craig, cited the flaw in the plea and argued to the state high court that prosecutors had lost the ability to seek the death penalty.
The court unanimously disagreed and sent the case back to Clark County District Court.
Righetti still awaits sentencing on the other charges, which could get him life in prison.
Otremba was stabbed more than 80 times, and her burned corpse was found in 2011 in a vacant lot near a path from school to her home in northwest Las Vegas.
Authorities said there was no evidence that Righetti knew Otremba, who texted her mother to say she was walking home from school just minutes before she disappeared.
Righetti told police he wanted to prove he could be as brutal as the most notorious Las Vegas gang member, although police said there was no evidence he was in a gang.
Craig said in an interview Monday that she is not able to present a defense to the jury because her client has already pleaded guilty.
“He doesn’t have a presumption of innocence,” she said.
Prosecutor Giancarlo Pesci declined to comment. In court, he has said that jurors won’t be told that Righetti pleaded guilty to murder.
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