Attorney Thomas Qualls, representing David Middleton, argued that the one-time Miami police officer's constitutional due process rights were violated in his 1997 trial for the murders of Sun Valley teacher Katherine Powell and Circus Circus Reno employee Thelma Amparo Davila.
Qualls said Middleton should have gone through a competency hearing, and also had ineffective legal counsel both at his trial and during a previous appeal proceeding. He also said that Middleton's death sentence should be erased in line with the high court's 2004 McConnell decision.
In the 2004 ruling, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of inmate Robert McConnell, holding that a defendant can't be convicted of first-degree murder using a particular circumstance, such as a killing that occurred during a robbery, and then have robbery used again as an aggravating circumstance in the penalty phase of a trial.
Washoe County Deputy District Attorney Gary Hatlestad argued that the Supreme Court should use Middleton's case to overrule its earlier McConnell decision, and uphold the death sentence imposed on Middleton for the two murders.
Hatlestad also said Middleton was "a wise fellow" who had worked as a police officer and a stockbroker, adding there was "not a shred of evidence in this case" that he wasn't competent to stand trial for the murders.
Even if an aggravating circumstance of kidnapping was deleted by the Supreme Court, Hatlestad said there were remaining "aggravators" of multiple murders and a prior felony record that were enough to preserve Middleton's death sentence.
During his trial, Middleton was characterized by prosecutors as a sadist who liked rough sex. Investigators searching his storage unit found restraint devices, sex toys and a refrigerator with air holes that they believe held Powell while she was alive.
Powell, 45, disappeared from her Reno home in February 1995. Her bound and wrapped body was found about a week later by a transient rummaging through a trash bin near Virginia Lake.
Davila was 42 when she disappeared from her Sparks apartment in August 1994. Her body, wrapped in plastic and bound with robe, was found near Verdi in April 1995.