Death row's James Biela pushes for new trial

RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - James Biela was convicted for the 2008 murder of 19-year-old Brianna Denison. It was one of the most sensational crimes in northern Nevada at the time because for a time, police had no suspect or motive.

Brianna Denison’s body was not immediately found. She was eventually found February 15, 2008 approximately four weeks after disappearing. An autopsy would show she had been strangled and raped.

In the spring of 2010, Biela was convicted of killing Denison and raping two other women. For that he received the death penalty plus multiple life sentences.

His two new attorneys, Edward Reed and Chris Oram, gave several instances in court July 11 2016 in which they say the Washoe County Public Defender’s Office dropped the ball. They say the defense attorneys should have pressed harder for a change of venue considering all of the pre-trial publicity.

One of Biela’s public defenders at the time, Maizie Pusich, testified in court Monday, saying as a native, she was hard-pressed to find a case more shocking—naming Darrin Mack, Cathy Woods, and Tamir Hamilton as trials that so fully captured the public’s attention.

Oram played a tape in court where he says Reno Police gave his client improper Miranda Rights. Oram says it was not only cause for an appeal but also a reason to request Biela’s statements to police be thrown out.

Biela’s current defense team says the Washoe County Public Defender’s Office should have pursued its own psychological evaluation of one of Biela’s rape victims. The woman identified as Amanda C in court records did not go to police immediately after her attack. There was no physical evidence available by the time she went to authorities. She identified James Biela as her attacker only after he was named a suspect in the Denison case. She claimed she was infected with herpes by Biela. In court it was shown that was not true.

Oram also said in court the tipster who called Secret Witness about the case, which led to the conviction of Biela, should have been identified and compelled to testify during trial.

Some of these issues have already been commented on by The Nevada Supreme Court when it upheld Biela’s death sentence. Justices said there was nothing in the record that showed jurors' decisions were a result of passion or prejudice. The court said Amanda C’s testimony, where she identified Biela during trial as “the man who haunts my dreams,” was sufficient to support his conviction.

Biela’s original trial lasted three and a half weeks; there were 60 witnesses and the jury deliberated for nine hours. His new attorneys may call several of the original players to the stand in this case, which is why the court calendar has been marked off for two weeks.

Court resumes on July 12 in District Judge Scott Freeman’s courtroom.