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Sirens & Gavels

Posts tagged: James Biela

Jury: Ex-Spokanite should die for murder

 A 1999 West Valley High graduate convicted of rape and murder in Reno, Nevada should die for his crimes, a jury ruled today. 

James Michael Biela, whose mother lives in Spokane Valley and sister works for the Spokane Police Department, will be sentenced to death for the murder of 19-year-old Brianna Denison instead of life in prison as the defense asked.

The same jury convicted Biela last week of Denison’s death and of sexually assaulting two other young women in a string of attacks from October 2007 to January 2008.

One piece of evidence in the case was a Toyota truck seized from a Coeur d’Alene resident shortly after Biela’s arrest. Police believe Biela used the truck in the crimes, then sold it to a car dealership up here while working in Moses Lake.

His family was in Reno for the trial, including his mother, Kathy Lovell, who testified about abuse endured at the hands of her ex-husband and Biela’s father, and a sister, Kristi Jackson, who works in the records division of the Spokane Police Department.

Past coverage:

Today: Victim’s grandma embraces killer’s mother

May 28: WV grad guilty of rape, murder

May 25: Defense rests in ex-Spokanite’s murder trial

May 25: Prosecution rests in WV grad’s murder trial

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

Nov. 27, 2008: WV grad held in Reno killing

Victim’s grandma embraces killer’s mother

RENO, Nev. (AP) — It was a single act of compassion in a courtroom chamber of horrors for the families of a convicted rapist and killer, his victims and their families.

Minutes after the guilty verdict was read, Brianna Denison’s grandmother extended her hands to the mother of the man convicted of kidnapping the petite 19-year-old, raping her, strangling her, then — as prosecutors said — dumping her naked body in a field “like garbage.”

A jury returned to Washoe District Court today to hear more testimony as it decides whether James Biela should be sentenced to death for Denison’s murder and the sexual assault of two other women.

Denison’s grandmother, Barbara Zunino, slowly walked across the courtroom aisle to come face-to-face with Biela’s mother, Kathy Lovell (right), of Spokane Valley, after the verdict was announced Thursday.

Lovell grasped Zunino’s outstretched hands, and they looked at each other through tear-filled eyes.

While their words were inaudible from a few steps away, their body language suggested an expression of sorrow and sympathy.

“I’m a mom, she’s a mom,” Zunino told The Associated Press later, declining to comment further.

That Lovell deserved some sympathy became clear the next day as she and Biela’s siblings, including a sister who works for the Spokane Police Department, described the torment Biela’s abusive father put them through growing up in poverty in the Chicago area and later Reno.

Read the rest of the AP story by clicking the link below.

Biela shows emotion at death penalty trial

RENO, Nev. (AP) — James Biela gave a short but emotional statement today to jurors who will decide whether he gets the death penalty for the murder of a college coed and the sexual assault of two others near the University of Nevada, Reno.

“First off, I’m sorry. This is very difficult for me,” Biela said while standing at the defense table. “I just wanted to say I’m sorry that this incident has destroyed several families. “I regret that no matter what you decide is my fate that I will never be able to see my son grow up and be a father to him.” 

Biela, a 1999 graduate of West Valley High School whose sister works for the Spokane Police Department, said he was sorry if he failed his son, but he wanted him to know, “this might not be the time or place, but I love you. That’s it. I don’t know what else to say. I’m sorry.”

Before he spoke, Biela was asked by Washoe County District Judge Robert Perry if he understood he would be subjected to cross-examination by prosecutors if he denied his guilt or disputed the facts of his case. 

“Yes,” Biela replied. 

The judge said Biela had a right to address the jury on limited subjects without being sworn in and subjected to cross-examination. Biela chose to limit the scope of his statement.

The same jury that will decide Biela’s penalty convicted him last week of the murder of 19-year-old Brianna Denison and the sexual assault of two other women.

Perry said he expects the jury to begin deliberations on the sentence later today. Denison’s mother was expected to address the jury before then.

Prosecutors said the 28-year-old pipe fitter from Sparks, whose mother and sister live in the Spokane area, deserves to be executed. His public defenders said he should be sentenced to prison with no chance for parole.

The sexual assaults began in the fall of 2007 around the UNR campus just north of the downtown casino district and culminated in Denison’s strangulation in January 2008.

Detectives said it was the work of a serial rapist who stalked petite women and had a fetish for thong underwear.They believe Biela lived in the Moses Lake area for a few months after the attacks and sold the truck used in the crimes to a car dealership, where a Coeur d’Alene resident bought it.

Jurors also heard Thursday morning from Biela’s sister Kristi Jackson, a records specialist with the Spokane Police Department, who testified how Biela’s abusive father terrorized the family.

“We pretty much spent our whole childhood afraid of the men in our lives,” she said, adding that her brother was a good father to his son.

Past coverage:

May 28: WV grad guilty of rape, murder

May 25: Defense rests in ex-Spokanite’s murder trial

May 25: Prosecution rests in WV grad’s murder trial

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

Nov. 27, 2008: WV grad held in Reno killing

Killer’s Spokane family to testify in Reno

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Convicted murderer and rapist James Biela grew up in a poor and abusive household where his father routinely beat his mother and the children cowered in fear, sometimes using a bucket in their bedroom as a toilet.

A jury in Reno trying to decide whether to sentence the 1999 West Valley High graduate to death heard about his traumatic childhood Friday in testimony from a psychiatrist and one of his two sisters.

Dr. Melissa Piasecki says Biela’s mother, Kathy Lovell, who lives in Spokane Valley, suffered broken teeth and ribs. Earrings were ripped from her ears and she had wrist surgery because she was bound so many times.

The doctor says Lovell sometimes sought shelter by hiding under the kids’ beds. But they would end up watching as he dragged her out and beat her again.

The jury deliberated for just over six hours before finding Biela, who police believe worked in the Moses Lake area after the crimes, guilty on Thursday of all five counts tied to the 2008 killing of the 19-year-old Denison and assault of the others.

District Attorney Dick Gammick says it is cases like this that always strengthen his faith and belief in the jury system.

Past coverage:

May 28: WV grad guilty of rape, murder

May 25: Defense rests in ex-Spokanite’s murder trial

May 25: Prosecution rests in WV grad’s murder trial

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

Nov. 27, 2008: WV grad held in Reno killing

Ex-Spokane man convicted of murder, rape

RENO, Nev. (AP) — A former Spokane man was convicted today of raping and strangling a 19-year-old college coed during a string of attacks that had the city of Reno on edge two years ago.

A Washoe County District Court jury found James Michael Biela guilty of all five counts tied to the murder of Brianna Denison and sexual assault of two other young women.

Biela (left, on May 18) showed little emotion, standing with his hands crossed in front of his waist as the verdict was read.

“It’s a good verdict, well deserved,” District Attorney Dick Gammick said. “Cases like this always strengthen my faith and belief in the jury system.”

The same jury that took about six hours to reach a verdict now must decide whether the 1999 West Valley graduate whose mother lives in Spokane Valley and attended his trial, should be sentenced to death.

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 resident. The truck was seized shortly after Biela’s arrest.

Read the rest of the Associated Press story by clicking the link below.

Past coverage:

May 25: Defense rests in ex-Spokanite’s murder trial

May 25: Prosecution rests in WV grad’s murder trial

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

Nov. 27, 2008: WV grad held in Reno killing

Defense rests in ex-Spokanite’s murder trial

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

Prosecution rests in WV grad’s murder trial

RENO, Nev. (AP) — The ex-girlfriend of a former Spokane man standing trial in the killing of a Nevada college coed and sexual assaults of two other young women said Monday she watched from her office window the day victim Brianna Denison’s body was found in a field outside her workplace.

Carleen Harmon also testified that defendant James Biela told her the only reason anyone cared about the case was because the 19-year-old Denison was “hot” and came from a wealthy family.

The prosecution rested its case Monday in Washoe District Court after more than two hours of emotional testimony by Harmon, who lived with Biela and is the mother of his son.

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 in a string of attacks in 2008.

Biela’s mother, stepfather and at least one sibling live in Spokane and are reportedly in Reno for the trial.

Biela, a 1999 West Valley High School graduate, could face the death penalty if convicted.

The jury is expcted to begin deliberations this week.

Read the rest of Monday’s AP story on the case by clicking the link below.

Past coverage:

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

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

Ex-Spokane man on trial for murder in Reno

A former Spokane Valley man is on trial in Nevada for the murder of a 19-year-old college coed and sexual assaults of two other women near the University of Nevada, Reno.

James Michael Biela, a 1999 West Valley High School graduate, could face the death penalty if convicted.

His mother, Kathy Lovell, of Spokane Valley, told the Reno Gazette-Journal she believes her son is innocent. Lovell and Biela’s stepfather and sister, of Spokane, reportedly are in Reno for the trial. 

Biela was arrested in Reno in November 2008 after an anonymous tip led authorities to his ex-girlfriend, who confided to a friend of finding two pair of women’s thong underwear in his truck while they drove back to Nevada from Moses Lake in September 2008.

Police later matched Biela’s DNA to that found on the body of Brianna Denison, who was home from college when she disappeared in January 2008. Her body was found three weeks later in a vacant lot in south Reno.

Biela, who trained at a martial arts school alongside Reno police, had been working as a pipefitter in the Moses Lake area since March 2008. Denison’s slaying is a high-profile case that shook the city, officials said.

“We assume he went up to Washington to get out of this area, because the heat was on,” Lt. Rob McDonald of the Reno Police Department said in November 2008.

Shortly after his arrest, detectives seized from a Coeur d’Alene couple a truck Biela sold to an Inland Northwest car dealership. Police believe the truck was used in the three crimes - they say one of the victims described the car’s interior in detail. 

Biela, a former Marine, has lived in Reno since 2002. He graduated from basic military training in San Diego in fall 1999, newspaper archives show.

His trial, expected to last three weeks, opened Wednesday with Deputy District Attorney Chris Hicks telling jurors that Biela is a man with a fetish for women’s thong underwear who escalated from rapist to killer.

Tucked beneath one of Denison’s legs when her body was found was a pair of women’s thong underwear. One belonged to the friend Denison was staying with the night she disappeared, and forensic experts believe it was used to strangle her, Hicks said.

But Public Defender Jay Slocum urged jurors not to view the evidence with sympathy or anger, but the “cold light of reason.”

Slocum said DNA evidence was not conclusive, and that while authorities say they’ve linked the three crimes to a single assailant, each has “very distinct facts” that shed doubt on the prosecution’s theory.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

Past coverage:

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

Read an AP story on the trial’s opening day by clicking the link below.

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