No third trial - prosecution drops murder charges
3/21/2013 6:00:00 AM
By Doug McMurdo
KINGMAN - After two trials ended with hung juries, prosecutors have asked Superior Court Judge Steven Conn to dismiss second-degree murder charges against Golden Valley resident Richard Erick Venola.
Venola, for his part, is grateful to put the issue behind him, but he admitted the experience has left him shattered. He has a life to rebuild.
For prosecutors, the decision to seek a dismissal was made in the interest of justice, according to court papers.
"The evidence presently available for the state is apparently insufficient to overcome the statutory presumptions that strongly favor claims of self-defense and justification," wrote Mohave County Attorney Rod Albright in court papers.
Venola stood accused of shooting to death James Patrick O'Neill on May 2, 2012, at Venola's home.
The two men had been drinking that day. Venola claimed he was in fear for his life and shot in self-defense. The state claimed Venola was inebriated and enraged the day of the shooting.
The first trial ended in January with the jury deadlocked. The second trial ended the same way at the end of February. Albright filed papers seeking dismissal on Tuesday.
Venola, 54, told the Miner he is relieved he won't be tried a third time, but he admitted his emotions are in turmoil.
He said he continues to struggle with the fact he took a human life.
"I'm glad to be alive," Venola said. "And I'm glad the legal portion of this life-shattering event is drawing to a close, but I'm still sad every single day."
Jailed for two months last summer and facing a long stretch in prison, Venola reflected on the past 10 months and the impact the case has had not only on him, but also on his family and friends.
"This is the toughest thing I've ever faced in my life by a factor of 10," said the one-time Marine and former editor of Guns and Ammo magazine. "This first chapter appears to be coming to a close, but I have a lifetime left to figure out the emotional issues."
The experience has left him with a better understanding of the criminal justice system.
"This has dramatically improved my perception of the system," he said. "Everybody did their job, everybody was professional and approached this case with concern for the truth."
He said the 60 days he spent incarcerated brought another surprise.
"Both the guards and my fellow prisoners treated me with respect," he said. "I had half a dozen hardened, tattooed guys asking me if I was OK and the guards were total pros."
He said he voted for Sheriff Tom Sheahan after his release based on his experience.
"The sheriff runs a good jail," he said.
He also praised his attorney, Ron Gilleo from the Legal Defender's Office, and prosecutor Albright.
"I'm a law-and-order kind of guy," he said. "I was impressed with the job the prosecutor did. I was hoping he'd have a bad day with his delivery, but he was a professional. He just had the weaker hand. The evidence was not in his favor."
Venola was reluctant to speak in detail of the day of the shooting, saying only that O'Neill was not, as reported, a neighbor.
The man lived about 12 miles away.
He also said they were not good friends, but did have "a budding friendship." They met about two months prior to the fatal incident.
Venola acknowledged the two drank heavily that day.
The evidence, however, showed he acted in self-defense, he said.
"The victim's family needs to see the evidence," he said. "They need to look at it so they can have closure."
Venola testified on his own behalf in both of his trials, which is somewhat unusual in criminal cases.
"I demanded to take the stand," he said.
"It's amazing how stressful testifying is when your testimony is for your life. The sensation I had is when you become part of the system, you lose your humanity, but I had confidence every day that I'd be exonerated."
Still, he has not forgotten about O'Neill.
"This is a huge tragedy," he said. "This whole affair was a huge tragedy for everybody involved, but it looks like the justice system and two juries are allowing me to rebuild my life.
"I've been surrounded by a circle of love by friends and family. I'm mentioned in a half-dozen prayer chains and every time I've been on the verge of despair I've received an uplifting phone call."
He will not forget those acts of kindness.
"I'm now obligated to live a better life because of all these people who have supported me," he said. "And I'll be a lot more discerning about what people I allow to enter my life."
His immediate goal, he said, is to travel to Southern Nevada to visit two young daughters.
"They are guarded," Venola said, "but clearly they've been traumatized."