By Scott Sonner
RENO — The state Supreme Court has rejected the appeal of a 31-year-old death row inmate convicted of murdering five northern Nevada residents during a 2013 rural Mother’s Day weekend rampage.
Jeremiah Bean initially agreed to plead guilty to the slayings in a deal that would have spared him the death penalty, but later changed his mind. A jury found him guilty on all counts in 2015.
Bean’s appeal argued his trial should have been moved from the small town of Yerington southeast of Reno because of pretrial publicity. His lawyers also said the death penalty was excessive punishment partly because of his intellectual deficiencies.
The high court said in a unanimous opinion that “the death penalty is not excessive in this case.”
“Over the course of a single weekend, Bean murdered five strangers in three separate incidents,” Chief Justice Mark Gibbons wrote. “He engaged the crimes of his own initiative and was not assisted or influenced by anyone else.”
Prosecutors said Bean robbed and killed his victims to get cash to buy drugs, then set fire to one of the homes in the city of Fernley homes east of Reno that he burglarized in an attempt to destroy evidence.
In addition to the death penalty crimes, Lyon County Judge John Schlegelmilch imposed consecutive penalties totaling 78 to 195 years for arson, robbery, burglary, auto theft and theft using a firearm.
Bean fatally shot Robert and Dorothy Pape, both 84, in one Fernley home, and Angie Duff, 67, and Lester Leiber, 69, at a nearby house.
He also killed a newspaper deliveryman, Elliezear Graham, 52, of Sparks, at an I-80 exit near the Mustang Ranch brothel east of Reno after Bean flagged him down alongside his stranded truck.
Nevada has almost 80 inmates on death row. The state has not executed anyone since 2006, and its ability to carry out a lethal injection has been in doubt for nearly a year after prison officials were blocked by courts from executing Scott Dozier.
Dozier, a twice-convicted murderer who gave up his appeals and volunteered to die, killed himself in January in his cell at Ely State Prison where Bean is now.
Bean’s appeal included claims the lethal injection protocol is illegal, but the justices said that matter is not “properly before us at this time.”
Bean’s appeal focused largely on his intellectual disability. It noted that two experts gave often conflicting testimony about his mental capacity and argued that capital cases require a “heightened level of scrutiny to ensure the lower court’s findings were fairly supported by the record.”
The appeal documents added: “The record plainly reflects a political decision on this critical issue by a district court judge who was, by any objective reading, consistently biased in favor of the state’s expert, in order to achieve a result-oriented decision that would allow the death penalty at sentencing.”
But the court pointed to Bean’s IQ test scores as slightly higher than the clinical definition of “sub-average intellectual functioning.”
“We acknowledge that experts agreed that Bean had some intellectual deficits … and recognize that those deficits may have contributed to Bean’s impulsive decision to embark on the course of conduct. But we conclude that those deficits are insufficient to render his death sentences for the five murders excessive,” the Sept. 20 ruling said.
It also said court transcripts do not demonstrate that “media coverage had become so saturated that a fair and impartial jury could not be seated.”