Different rulings in Nevada ranch hand killing

Different rulings in Nevada ranch hand killing

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CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) -- A husband and wife tried separately and convicted in Elko of killing a ranch worker whose body was found in a Utah river received different outcomes from the Nevada Supreme Court on their appeals, but maybe not for long.

In rulings issued Thursday, a three-judge panel overturned the first-degree murder conviction of Linda Fields and ordered a new trial. In a split decision, the full court upheld the conviction and sentence of her husband, John Vernon Fields.

Both appeals raised similar arguments.

Elko County District Attorney Gary Woodbury said Friday he will ask the entire court to reconsider the ruling in Linda Fields' case.

The two were convicted of killing Jaromir Palensky, 61, a ranch hand and Czech immigrant whose body was found Jan. 14, 2003, in the Jordan River near Salt Lake City.

Linda Fields, 49, was sentenced to life in prison without parole. John Fields, 59, received two life terms plus 10 years.

Palensky, according to court documents, was last seen alive at the Fields' ranch east of Elko, where he worked after being released from prison in fall 2003 following an alcohol-related conviction.

While in prison, he had given Linda Fields power of attorney over his affairs. She also took out a $300,000 life insurance policy on Palensky, naming herself beneficiary, according to court documents.

In reversing her conviction, the Supreme Court panel said the trial judge abused his discretion by allowing testimony of an alleged murder plot involving the couple against another man, Roy Mobert, with whom they had financial dealings.

While he was ill, Mobert also had given Linda Fields power of attorney. He rescinded it when he recuperated and disputes arose on her handling of his assets.

No charges were ever filed in the alleged murder plot and Mobert died of natural causes.

According to court documents, prosecutors argued the testimony concerning Mobert showed a "preconceived plan" by the couple to take advantage of elderly victims by changing their wills and then seeking someone to kill them.

But the panel in Linda Fields' appeal said there was a distinction between Palensky and Mobert, and that the testimony prejudiced jurors and the trial outcome.

"The state portrayed to the jury that both of these victims were the same -- elderly, frail and helpless -- when they were allegedly taken advantage of by the Fieldses," Justice Michael Cherry wrote.

"The circumstances of the alleged conspiracies are not similar, and the prior conspiracy alleged ... involving Mobert is irrelevant because the manner and cause of death of each of the victims are wholly different."

Justices Nancy Saitta and Mark Gibbons agreed.

Similar arguments, however, were rejected by the whole court in a 5-2 decision upholding the conviction of John Fields, in which Cherry and Saitta dissented.

Both cases involved swindling older men who gave power of attorney to Linda Fields, who used it to transfer money into accounts she shared with her husband, Justice Kris Pickering said in writing for the majority.

"The fact the Mobert solicitation did not lead to his death, while Palensky ended up murdered, weakens but does not eliminate the probative worth of the Mobert evidence."

The majority also said that the Fields' money problems with Mobert in the months before Palensky's death provided motive.

"Linda receiving Palensky's $300,000 life insurance benefit, or the two of them inheriting his estate, would help solve their problem with Mobert."

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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