Jury hears 37-year-old testimony in murder hearing

By  | 

RENO, NV (KOLO) - It began as any penalty phase following a murder trial which had ended in conviction would, with opening statements from both sides.

There, all resemblance to a traditional hearing ended. The trial and conviction had taken place 37 years ago.

In 1982, Tracy Petrocelli was convicted of the murder of car dealer James Wilson. The same jury listened to arguments in the penalty phase back then and decided on the death penalty.

The case has gone through a number of appeals since then and two years ago, an appeals court upheld his conviction, but threw out the sentence.

Petrocelli had been interviewed back then, without his attorney present by a psychiatrist, who later testified for the prosecution.

A new penalty phase was in order, but after so many years, how to reconstruct the case for and against the death penalty?

The solution was unusual, a replay of sorts. Call it judicial theater with a deadly serious purpose. The new jury will hear all the testimony from 1982, word-for-word, read, as if from a script.

That got underway Thursday afternoon with an investigator from the DA's staff playing the roles of a succession of car salesmen. Deputy District Attorney Luke Prengamen read the prosecutor's and defense attorney's part.

Much of the hearing that follows will reflect this same pattern, though there will be victim impact statements which weren't heard back then, and, undoubtedly, updated arguments.

The aim of both sides remains unchanged, the prosecution arguing the evidence supports the death penalty, the defense asserting the frail 67-year-old defendant is no longer the 30-year-old who committed the Wilson murder and two others elsewhere.

Once again, a Washoe County jury will decide. The hearing is expected to last through next week.

Copyright KOLO-TV 2019