Not Guilty Pleas for Teens in Mesquite Knife Slaying

Not Guilty Pleas for Teens in Mesquite Knife Slaying

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LAS VEGAS (AP) -- A Utah teenager pleaded innocent, and his sister's lawyers said they'll challenge whether she should be tried as an adult for a knife attack on two little girls outside a Mesquite casino.

Beau Santino Maestas and his sister, Monique, waived their rights to a speedy trial Monday during their first appearances in Clark County District Court. They face murder charges in the attack that killed 3-year-old Kristyanna Cowan and left her sister, Brittney Bergeron, 10, paralyzed. Prosecutors have said they might seek the death penalty.

"I'm not willing to accept the jurisdiction of an adult court at this time," said Philip Kohn, a special public defender who declined to enter a plea for Monique Maestas, 16.

District Judge Donald Mosley entered an innocent plea on her be half.

Although Beau Maestas, 19, pleaded "not guilty," his de fense lawyer said outside court that there was a distinction between lack of guilt and innocence.

Deputy Clark County Public Defender Howard Brooks said he intends to focus on his client's state of mind in the January attack.

"The state has substantial evidence of what happened," said Brooks, who earlier this month waived a public airing of the evidence in Mesquite Justice Court. "This case will ultimately be about why it happened."

The judge decided that Beau and Monique Maestas should be tried together on charges including murder and attempted murder, and gave Clark County District Attorney David Roger two weeks to decide whether he will seek the death penalty.

A Mesquite justice of the peace has ruled that Monique Maestas should be tried as an adult -- a determination that makes her eligible for capital punishment.

However, Roger said lawmakers in Carson City are considering banning the execution of defendants convicted before their 18th birthday, which could affect Monique Maestas. She turns 17 Wednesday.

Mosley indicated the trial will not begin before January.

The teens, from Salt Lake City, are accused of attacking the two girls early Jan. 22 in a recreational vehicle trailer where they were staying outside the CasaBlanca hotel-casino in Mesquite, a desert casino town near the Nevada-Utah border.

They were arrested later that morning in Juab County, Utah, and are being held in the Clark County Detention Center in Las Vegas.

Police said Beau Maestas told them the attack occurred after the girls' mother, Tamara Bergeron, and her boyfriend, Robert Schmidt, cheated him in a drug deal. The children were stabbed while Bergeron and Schmidt were inside the casino, eating and gambling.

Police have said they were considering child endangerment charges against Bergeron and Schmidt, both 33, of Beaumont, Calif.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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