Maestas v. State

Citation275 P.3d 74,128 Nev. Adv. Op. 12
Decision Date29 March 2012
Docket NumberNos. 48295,54080.,s. 48295
PartiesBeau MAESTAS, Appellant, v. The STATE of Nevada, Respondent.Beau S. Maestas, Appellant, v. The State of Nevada, Respondent.
CourtSupreme Court of Nevada

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Patti, Sgro & Lewis and Anthony P. Sgro and Erick M. Ferran, Las Vegas, for Appellant.

Catherine Cortez Masto, Attorney General, Carson City; David Roger, District Attorney, Steven S. Owens, Chief Deputy District Attorney, and Nancy A. Becker, Deputy District Attorney, Clark County, for Respondent.

Before the Court En Banc.

OPINION

By the Court, CHERRY, J.:

Appellant Beau Maestas pleaded guilty to several charges and a jury sentenced him to death for first-degree murder. He subsequently sought a new penalty trial based on allegations of juror misconduct and bias, but the district court denied the motion. In these consolidated appeals, Maestas challenges the judgment of conviction and the order denying the motion for a new trial. We conclude that none of Maestas' claims warrant relief and therefore affirm the judgment and order.

In this opinion, we focus principally on two of Maestas' claims. First, we consider whether NRS 175.556 violates the Eighth Amendment because it allows the district court unfettered discretion to choose between imposing a life-without-parole sentence and impaneling a new jury to determine the sentence when a jury is unable to reach a unanimous penalty verdict. We conclude that NRS 175.556 does not violate the Eighth Amendment because the relevant jurisprudence focuses on whether a capital sentencing scheme sufficiently channels the sentencer's discretion to impose a death sentence and NRS 175.556 does not afford the district court the discretion to impose a death sentence (that determination is left to the new jury, guided by the requirements set forth in NRS 175.554). Second, we consider whether the jury foreperson committed misconduct by expressing her views on the meaning of a life sentence without the possibility of parole based on her special knowledge as a 9–1–1 dispatcher and by lying during voir dire to conceal a bias against Maestas. We hold that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying the motion for a new trial because no misconduct or bias was proved.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

This case involves an attack on two children in a trailer located in the CasaBlanca RV Park in Mesquite, Nevada, resulting in the death of one victim and permanent physical injuries to the other victim. In the early morning hours of January 22, 2003, Officer Bradley Swanson responded to a gruesome scene. Outside the trailer, Officer Swanson found three-year-old Kristyanna Cowan lying in her grandmother's arms. Kristyanna had sustained numerous stab wounds, including a wound to the left side of her head that penetrated midway through her brain, wounds to the right side of her head and left side of her neck that penetrated the jugular vein and caused significant blood loss, and a gaping wound to her back. Although still alive, Kristyanna was unconscious and nonresponsive. Swanson found Kristyanna's 10–year–old sister Brittany Bergeron inside the trailer. She had suffered at least 20 stab wounds but was still conscious and able to tell Swanson what had happened.

Brittany told Swanson that a male and female in their early 20s had come to the trailer. The male grabbed the girls and put his hand over their mouths. Brittany attempted to fight back by kicking and biting, but the male was too strong and everything “went black.”

The girls were transported to the hospital. Kristyanna died a short time later. Brittany survived the attack but was left a paraplegic as the result of a stab wound that cut through her vertebral column, severing her spine.

Information received at the crime scene indicated that the girls' attackers had some connection to a known drug dealer named Desiree Towne. Towne informed the police that several hours before the attacks, Beau Maestas contacted her to arrange a purchase of methamphetamine. When Towne was unable to secure the drugs from her source, Maestas inquired about two individuals who drove a white Firebird with a yellow bumper. Towne determined that Maestas was referring to Tammy Bergeron (Brittany and Kristyanna's mother) and her husband Robert Schmidt. Maestas and Towne found Bergeron and Schmidt at a casino in Mesquite, and Maestas purchased what he believed to be methamphetamine from Bergeron for $125. The substance turned out to be salt. Upon discovering this deception, Maestas and Towne returned to the casino, where Maestas and Schmidt got into an altercation and were escorted from the premises. Based on this and other information, the police issued an attempt-to-locate broadcast to authorities in Arizona, California, Utah, and Nevada. Maestas was apprehended in Utah, along with his sister Monique 1 and his girlfriend, Sabrina Bantam.

Bantam provided a detailed account of the events before and after the attacks that implicated Maestas and Monique. According to Bantam, Maestas and Monique arrived at her home after Maestas' botched drug purchase. They were livid over the counterfeit drugs purchased from Bergeron. Maestas asked Bantam for a knife, which she gave to him.2 Bantam then accompanied Maestas and Monique to the CasaBlanca RV Park. Maestas parked in the employee parking lot and instructed Bantam to honk the car horn if she saw a white Firebird (Bergeron's vehicle). Maestas exited the car and walked toward the RV Park, leaving Bantam and Monique in the car.

When Maestas returned to the car approximately 10 minutes later, he was upset, complaining that the little girls would not let him into the trailer. Monique became angry and accompanied Maestas back to the trailer to assist him in gaining entry. Again, Bantam was instructed to honk the car horn if a white Firebird appeared.

Maestas and Monique returned to the car approximately 10 to 15 minutes later. Maestas' hands and clothing were covered in blood. Bantam drove Maestas and Monique to their grandmother's house to clean up and get their grandmother's car. During the drive, both siblings made incriminating statements. Monique stated that she tried to stab the little girl in the organs and kept stabbing. She said, “I should have sliced the girl's neck then, because I was too scared. I couldn't do it.” Maestas commented that he “stabbed the little girl in the head.” Maestas, Monique, and Bantam eventually fled to Utah.

Physical evidence also connected Maestas and Monique to the attack. With information obtained from Bantam, police located Maestas' and Monique's bloody clothing and the knives. Blood from both victims was found on the clothing.

Maestas incriminated himself. He told police that he went to Bergeron's trailer to get his money back and perhaps to retaliate against Schmidt by “maybe cut[ting] him or stab[bing] him or whatever,” but when he made his way into the trailer, Brittany and Kristyanna began screaming, so he stabbed them. He made similar admissions in a letter to someone named Amy, written while he was incarcerated awaiting extradition to Nevada. In that letter, which was intercepted by jail personnel in Utah, Maestas explained the botched drug deal and admitted that he “fliped [sic] out and killed the lady's youngest daughter and paralized [sic] the older one.” In a letter he later wrote to Monique while incarcerated at the Clark County Detention Center, Maestas admitted to “slaughtering those little pigies [sic],” referring to Brittany and Kristyanna, and asked Monique to “knock [Bantam]'s teeth out, kick her lips off, rip her tongue out and wipe your ass with it” when Monique was released from prison.

The charges and trial

The State charged Maestas with first-degree murder with the use of a deadly weapon, attempted murder with the use of a deadly weapon, and burglary while in possession of a deadly weapon. The State also filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty, alleging two aggravating circumstances: (1) the murder occurred in the commission of a burglary and (2) the victim was under 14 years of age. After Maestas pleaded guilty to all of the charges, the case proceeded before a jury to determine the sentence to be imposed for the first-degree-murder charge as required by NRS 175.552(1)(b). When the jury was unable to reach a verdict, the district court declared a mistrial and impaneled a second jury as authorized by NRS 175.556(1).

At the second penalty hearing, the State proceeded on a single aggravating circumstance—Kristyanna's age. The State also presented “other matter evidence,” NRS 175.552(3), including the facts and circumstances of the crime and the impact on Brittany of her physical and psychological injuries and the loss of her sister. Regarding the latter, Brittany's foster mother, Judith Himel, testified that when Brittany came to live with her about three years before the trial, Brittany was very apprehensive, needed quite a bit of assistance, and was in a great deal of pain. During the day, Brittany was generally happy, playing with other children, swimming, and going to school. But at night, she was frightened and had difficulty sleeping. She often required a sedative and insisted on having a light and a television on. On Kristyanna's birthday and the date of her death, Brittany releases balloons. Himel testified that Brittany receives counseling and physical therapy. She also related that Brittany is an A/B student, on the honor roll, is active in sports, and is about to enter high school.

In mitigation, Maestas presented six witnesses, including family members, his former school probation officer, and a psychologist, and several letters from relatives and friends. The mitigation case focused on Maestas' youth (he was 19 at the time of the attack), abusive and dysfunctional childhood and relationship with his parents (especially his mother), character and exposure to illegal substances, cognitive functioning, admission...

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21 cases
  • State v. Abdullah
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Idaho
    • March 2, 2015
    ...be pleaded in the charging document, it naturally follows that they are not subject to a probable-cause determination." Maestas v. State, ––– Nev. ––––, 275 P.3d 74, 87, cert. denied, – –– U.S. ––––, 133 S.Ct. 275, 184 L.Ed.2d 163 (2012). Thus, we also hold that there is no constitutional r......
  • State v. Abdullah
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Idaho
    • March 2, 2015
    ...the charging document, it naturally follows that they are not subject to a probable-cause determination.” Maestas v. State, ––– Nev. ––––, 275 P.3d 74, 87, cert. denied, ––– U.S. ––––, 133 S.Ct. 275, 184 L.Ed.2d 163 (2012). Thus, we 158 Idaho 460348 P.3d 75also hold that there is no constit......
  • Haberstroh v. State
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Nevada
    • September 18, 2015
    ...misrepresentation during voir dire, Haberstroh's allegation is nothing more than supposition. See Maestas v. State, 128 Nev., Adv. Op. 12, 275 P.3d 74, 85 (2012) ("'[W]here it is claimed that a juror has answered falsely on voir dire about a matter of potential bias or prejudice,' the criti......
  • Blake v. McDaniel
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Nevada
    • July 30, 2014
    ...The probable-cause claim lacks merit for two reasons. First, this court rejected a similar claim in Maestas u. State, 128 Nev. ___, ___, 275 P.3d 74, 86-87 (2012). Second, this court determined in Blake's first post-conviction appeal that trial counsel was not ineffective in this regard. Bl......
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