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I-Team: Delays normal in death penalty cases | News

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I-Team: Delays normal in death penalty cases
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Ammar Harris

LAS VEGAS -- Two years have passed since a shooting on the Las Vegas Strip led to a fiery crash and the deaths of three people.

The man accused of those murders, Ammar Harris, still has not been brought to trial. An old adage says justice delayed is justice denied but it's also true the wheels of justice turn slowly.

As the I-Team learned, the reasons for that aren't always foot-dragging or delay tactics.

It was in February 2013 when reputed pimp Kenneth Cherry was shot in his Maserati as he drove away from the Aria resort. The mortally wounded Cherry crashed his car into a taxicab, causing an explosion that killed cabbie Michael Bolden and passenger Sandra Sutton-Wasmund.

Since Harris was arrested the trial date in the death penalty case has moved three times and is now scheduled for July.

Bolden's brother, Tehran Bolden, worries about the toll the case continues to take on his 93-year-old mother.

“That's the justice system,” Tehran Bolden told the I-Team. “It's been two years. My mother's aged 10 years in two.”

But he remains philosophical about the time it is taking for justice to prevail.

“Well, you can't blame anyone for dragging it out,” he said. “I've already went through the blame game.”

He said if anyone is to blame, it's Harris, who has already been prosecuted and convicted of two other felonies while awaiting trial in the triple murder case. The convictions were for a sexual assault prior to the carnage on the Strip, and for bribing a prison guard while serving time for the other offense.

“It's been my experience in the state of Nevada that a capital case rarely goes to trial inside of two years of the date that the person is arrested or taken into custody on the offenses,” Clark County prosecutor David Stanton said.

Nevada death penalty costs reflect U.S. trends

A study released to the Nevada Legislature in November showed that the average death penalty case in the state takes more than 1,200 days, or three-and-a-half years, to complete. But if Harris goes to trial in July, it will have been roughly two-and-a-half years from the time of the crime.

Stanton: “And, so, the length of time is actually fairly quick compared to other cases.”

I-Team: “But you haven't seen any foot-dragging tactics or delays on the other side?”

Stanton: “No. Not by defense counsel, and certainly not by the court.”

The legislative study indicated death penalty cases routinely take more than a year longer to bring to trial than other murder cases. The chief reason is that death penalty cases involve both the guilt phase and the penalty phase.

Prosecutors can use during the penalty phase evidence of other bad acts or crimes they cannot use in the guilt phase.

“And they have to go through a painstaking and detailed investigation of Mr. Harris and his background and the incidences that the state is going to bring forward -- and, so, that takes time,” Stanton said.

Less than two months ago, detectives finally were able to interview a former female associate of Harris. She told police a tale of mental and physical abuse by Harris that may be used at the penalty hearing. So police are making progress, even as victims' families wait for justice.

“People talk about closure and I don't think we'll ever have closure but you know, you get some sense of gratification to know that this part is over with,” Tehran Bolden said.

Though it may seem these cases move at a glacial pace, statistics show it's not unusual for a capital case to take several years to get to trial. Witnesses' memories can fade and evidence can grow stale while waiting for trial, but police also can use the time to develop new information.

That's what has occurred in this case.

Las Vegas Strip shooting caused deadly wreck.
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