Sirens & Gavels

Defense rests in ex-Spokanite's murder trial

Washoe County deputy district attorney Elliott Sattler talks with Bridgette Denison, mother of murder victim Brianna Denispon before the start of James Biela's murder trial, Wednesday, May 19, 2010 in Reno, Nev. James Biela, 28, is charged with raping and killing Denison in early 2008 and sexually assaulting two other women in 2007 near the University of Nevada, Reno campus. Prosecutors intend to seek the death penalty if he is convicted of murder. (AP Photo/Marilyn Newton, Pool) (Marilyn Newton / Associated Press)
Washoe County deputy district attorney Elliott Sattler talks with Bridgette Denison, mother of murder victim Brianna Denispon before the start of James Biela's murder trial, Wednesday, May 19, 2010 in Reno, Nev. James Biela, 28, is charged with raping and killing Denison in early 2008 and sexually assaulting two other women in 2007 near the University of Nevada, Reno campus. Prosecutors intend to seek the death penalty if he is convicted of murder. (AP Photo/Marilyn Newton, Pool) (Marilyn Newton / Associated Press)

RENO, Nev. (AP) — The jury is expected to begin deliberations in James Biela's rape and murder trial on Wednesday after his public defenders abruptly ended presentation of their case with the calling of only one expert witness about DNA evidence.

The judge said he anticipates the case going to the jury sometime Wednesday afternoon following closing arguments from both sides in the trial that began 12 days ago.

  "Sooner than I thought we are done with the evidence in the first part of this case," Washoe District Judge Robert Perry said before sending the jury home for the day about 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday.

Biela, a 1999 West Valley High graduate whose mother lives in Spokane Valley, told the judge earlier Tuesday he wanted to testify but decided against it on the advice of his attorneys.

The 28-year-old accused of raping and murdering 19-year-old Brianna Denison and sexually assaulting two other young women in a string of attacks from October 2007 to January 2008 on the edge of the campus of the University of Nevada, Reno. He also faces a kidnapping charge.

(Denison's mother, Bridgette Denison, is pictured above talking to Washoe County deputy district attorney Elliott Sattler.)

Police believe Biela lived and worked in the Moses Lake area for several months after the attacks. He sold the truck believed to have been used in the crimes to a car dealership that then sold it to a Coeur d'Alene couple.

The truck was seized shortly after Biela's arrest.

Read the rest of the AP story on today's happenings in the case by clicking the link below.

Past coverage:

Today: Prosecution rests in WV grad's murder trial

May 14: Ex-Valley man on trial for murder in Reno

Nov. 27, 2008: West Valley grad held in Reno rapes, murder

If found guilty, a second phase of the trial will begin with the same jury determining whether Biela should be sentenced to death.

Denison, a Reno High graduate, was on winter break from Santa Barbara City College when she was abducted while sleeping on a friend's couch near the UNR campus on Jan. 20, 2008.

Her body clad only in socks was found about three weeks later beneath a discarded Christmas tree in a vacant lot across the street from the workplace of Biela's ex-girlfriend and mother of his child, Carleen Harmon.

Prosecutors contend Biela is a serial rapist who was motivated in part by a fetish for women's thong underwear and eventually graduated to murder.

They spent nearly two weeks calling witnesses and presenting evidence, including DNA tests they say conclusively connect Biela to both the scene of the kidnapping and the site where Denison's body was dumped along with two pair of women's thong underwear — one belonging to the friend at the home where she was staying.

Biela had refused to provide detectives with his DNA, but Harmon allowed them to take samples from their son, which were used to make what prosecutors say is a conclusive match.

Harmon also testified on Tuesday she found two pair of women's thong underwear in Biela's truck during a search spurred by suspicions he was having an affair.

The lone defense witness was Roger Miller, a DNA expert with a private lab in Phoenix, Ariz.

He testified late Monday and again Tuesday that it was not possible for his lab to conduct a second test on some samples to confirm the results of Washoe County's crime lab because all of the samples had been consumed by the county tests.

Miller said that while the initial results were consistent with those that would tie Biela to the scene, he would not characterize them as a "match." Under cross examination, he acknowledged he did not dispute the lab's methods or the results it came up with.

The day began with the jury outside the courtroom when Perry asked Biela if he intended to testify on his own behalf.

Biela initially said, "Yes."

But after the judge questioned him on his knowledge of his rights and asked if he had made an educated decision based in part on the advice of his attorneys, Biela answered, "I guess so."

Pressed by the judge about whether he still wanted to testify, Biela said, "I guess not."

"I just want to say I would like to (testify), I just was advised not to. So I'll follow their advice not to do it," he said.

Perry said he thought the jurors would be fresher if they returned Wednesday for deliberations, rather than beginning that process late Tuesday after he completed the jury instructions.

"I once remember getting a verdict at 3 in the morning and nobody knew their name by that time," Perry said.




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