Death penalty upheld for man in Mesquite slaying

Mar 29 2012 - 3:58pm

LAS VEGAS -- The Nevada Supreme Court upheld the death penalty sentence Thursday of a former Utah man who pleaded guilty to killing a 3-year-old girl and stabbing her 10-year-old sister nine years ago.

The state high court rejected a plea for a new penalty trial for Beau Maestas, now 28, in the brutal January 2003 carving knife attack that left Kristyanna Cowan dead and Brittney Bergeron paralyzed from the waist down.

Authorities said the attack in a recreational vehicle trailer outside a Mesquite casino was revenge for a drug rip-off involving Maestas and the girls' mother.

Maestas' appellate attorney, Tony Sgro, didn't immediately say Thursday whether he'll appeal to federal courts.

Sgro had challenged the constitutionality of one jury deciding Maestas' fate after a previous jury deadlocked. And in oral arguments before the Supreme Court last October, Sgro alleged that a police dispatcher tainted death penalty deliberations in 2006 when she told other jurors that she heard of convicts going free and committing other crimes.

The Supreme Court bluntly rejected his appeals.

"It is difficult to imagine a more horrendous killing than Kristyanna's," Justice Michael Cherry wrote for the unanimous court. "But nothing in the record indicates that the jury acted under any improper influence in imposing a death penalty for that killing."

Prosecutors say Maestas, then 19, and his 16-year-old sister, Monique Maestas, attacked the girls in retaliation for a drug sale rip-off involving the girls' mother.

Monique Maestas pleaded guilty to the same charges as her brother, but wasn't eligible for the death penalty because of her age. She's now 25 and is serving 47 years to life in prison.

Appellate prosecutor Nancy Becker told the high court that Cowan was stabbed six times, including once in the head with such force that her body hung on the knife when Maestas lifted his arm.

Bergeron was stabbed 20 times and her spine was severed. She survived the attack and was adopted by a foster family in 2008.

The court opinion praised the "deliberate and thoughtful" verdict by jurors who decided Maestas should die after noting mitigating circumstances including Maestas' troubled childhood, his lack of a prior criminal record, his admission of guilt and his remorse.

Maestas is among 83 people now on death row in Nevada, state prisons spokesman Steve Suwe said.

The last person executed was 47-year-old Daryl Linnie Mack in April 2006. He was convicted with DNA evidence of the rape and murder of a Reno woman.

The Mesquite attack also spawned criminal charges against the mother, Tamara Bergeron Schmidt, and her then-boyfriend, Robert Schmidt. Prosecutors alleged the couple sold the Maestas teens salt in place of methamphetamine.

The mother and boyfriend later married. They denied the drug sale allegations, but were convicted and served prison time for felony neglect for leaving the two girls alone in the trailer.



From Around the Web