Verdict in Nevada Murder, Rape Trial Expected Soon

RENO, Nev.  -- Jurors were deliberating under tight security Thursday in the trial of a Nevada man accused of capping a string of sexual assaults near a college campus with the rape and murder of a 19-year-old coed in January 2008.

Deputies with police dogs cleared media from the third floor of the Washoe County courthouse outside the jury room where the seven women and five men resumed deliberations Thursday morning to determine the fate of James Biela.

In addition to murder and sexual assault charges in the strangulation of Brianna Denison, the 28-year-old Sparks pipe fitter is charged with kidnapping and two additional sexual assault charges tied to attacks on two other young women.

Prosecutors say the string of violence that began in October 2007 near the campus of the University of Nevada, Reno was the work of a serial rapist who stalked young, petite women and had a fetish for thong underwear.

The jury deliberated about 90 minutes Wednesday night after hearing more than two weeks of emotional testimony about the case that gripped a community for nearly a year before Biela was arrested some nine months after Denison's death.

It resumed deliberations Thursday at 8:40 a.m. and continued through the lunch hour.

If Biela is found guilty of murder, the same jury then will determine whether he should be sentenced to death during a second penalty phase of the trial.

Biela, an ex-Marine and martial arts student, told Judge Robert Perry earlier this week he wanted to testify on his own behalf but then changed his mind based on the advice of his public defenders.

Denison, a sophomore at Santa Barbara City College, was home visiting friends when she was kidnapped Jan. 20, 2008, while sleeping on a friend's couch near the UNR campus. Her body was found in a field less than a month later with two pair of thong underwear, one that prosecutors say Biela took from the friend Denison was staying with.

The two other assault victims said their assailant took their underwear.

Deputy District Attorney Elliott Sattler began his closing arguments late Wednesday with a reference to the comment a co-worker of Biela's said he made the day Denison's body was found: "The (expletive expletive) probably had it coming."

Sattler said that comment offered "chilling insight into the mind of a killer."

"Sometimes people do get what they have coming," he said. "In this case, it's time for the defendant to get what he has coming."

Jay Slocum, one of Biela's public defenders, said prosecutors were glossing over significant differences in the three attacks that would suggest the crimes were not committed by the same person.

The first victim was raped at gun point in October 2007 and the second ordered to perform oral sex in December 2007 before Denison was raped and killed in the final attack.

Slocum told the jury the standard is "not did you think Mr. Biela probably did these crimes or quite likely did the crimes."

"The standard is beyond a reasonable doubt," he said. "If the state has not met its burden, you are following the law to say not guilty."