LAS VEGAS — A convicted murderer in Nevada who spent 31 years on death row has been resentenced to life in prison without parole after a federal appeals court sent his case back to a jury in Las Vegas.
John Valerio, 52, received his new sentence Monday in Clark County District Court, where he told a jury hearing the penalty phase of his case that he has changed behind bars — mentally, physically and spiritually.
Valerio was 22 when he was convicted and sentenced in 1988 for killing Karen Sue Blackwell, a 26-year-old prostitute, two years earlier.
“There’s not a day that goes by that I’m not remorseful and that I don’t think of Ms. Blackwell and the things that happened in 1986,” he said.
Blackwell’s body, with 45 stab wounds, was found in the trunk of a car wrapped in bedding from Valerio’s apartment.
“I was a menace. There’s no other way to put it. I made a lot of mistakes,” Valerio said. “I make better choices today.”
Defense attorney Tom Pitaro asked the jury for mercy and to consider whether a person can be redeemed, reformed and changed over time.
Prosecutor Marc DiGiacomo told jurors that Valerio’s sentence didn’t need to be changed.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld Valerio’s conviction in 2002 but overturned his sentence. The court called it unconstitutionally vague to ask a jury to decide whether the crime showed “depravity of mind.”
The Nevada Legislature eliminated the “depravity of mind” factor in 1995, 15 years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the factor was too vague and prejudicial in capital murder cases.
Information from: Las Vegas Review-Journal, http://www.lvrj.com