Las Vegas Judge Michelle Leavitt granted post-conviction relief to death row inmate John M. Watson, age 79. Judge Leavitt ordered that Watson’s conviction and death sentence are overturned and that Watson must receive a new trial. The ruling resulted from trial counsel’s unauthorized concession of guilt on Watson’s behalf during closing argument.
Watson had maintained his innocence throughout his 2010 trial. Watson, a longtime California resident and schoolteacher, was accused of kidnapping and murdering his wife, who disappeared in 2006. A Las Vegas jury sentenced Watson to death in 2010. In post-conviction filings, Watson alleged among other claims that his trial lawyer conceded guilt to the murder charge without Watson’s advance knowledge or permission.
“The United States Supreme Court and Nevada Supreme Court have long held that
the accused exclusively decides the objectives of the defense in criminal
prosecutions,” said Watson’s Las Vegas attorney, Jamie Resch. “Trial counsel
disregarded that important constitutional right when he informed the jury his client
was guilty of murder even though Mr. Watson had maintained his innocence. Mr.
Watson appreciates the court’s recognition of this error and looks forward to a fair,
For more detail, read the Order granting writ of habas corpus.
Mr. Resch is a member of the National Trial Lawyers. Resch Law, PLLC d/b/a Conviction Solutions is a Las Vegas law firm which handles criminal appeal and post-conviction cases. This is the second death sentence the firm has overturned in the last year. Last June, the firm helped inmate Frederick Mendoza, age 71, reach a deal with prosecutors to reduce his death sentence to life in prison without parole.