LAS VEGAS – A Las Vegas man accused in a 2011 crime spree was granted a new trial this week, after the Nevada Supreme Court ruled the jury might have been tainted by a PowerPoint slide featuring his battered face superimposed with the word "GUILTY."
The high court's ruling Wednesday reverses Frankie Alan Watters' convictions on charges of possessing a stolen car, grand larceny auto and failing to stop for an officer. State records show he's serving time in the Ely State Prison.
"Watters's principal defense was that he was not the man who stole the cars, just someone the police happened to find who matched the suspect's description," the ruling read. "The State has not shown beyond a reasonable doubt that the booking-photo slide sequence did not affect the jury's determination of Watters's guilt."
Watters, 27, was accused of stealing a car, wrecking it, stealing a second car, leading police on a high-speed chase, and running into a store, where he was arrested after being bitten several times by a police dog.
Defense attorneys cried foul when they previewed the slideshow that was set to accompany the prosecutor's opening statements, but a judge ruled the PowerPoint presentation was allowed, according to the ruling.
It featured a booking photo of Watters and animation that stamped the word "GUILTY" across his face in capital letters while the prosecutor verbally asked the jury to find Watters guilty of the charges.
Watters' attorneys said their client was "very upset" when he saw the slideshow.
The Clark County District Attorney's Office argued that the slide's appearance was harmless and wasn't admitted as evidence, adding that evidence of Watters' guilt was overwhelming.
But in the Supreme Court opinion, Justice Kristina Pickering wrote that the graphic's message crossed a line that prosecutors wouldn't be allowed to cross verbally — declaring the defendant guilty. It also cites research that visual information could be more persuasive than oral arguments alone.