LAS VEGAS — A Nevada District Court judge Wednesday rejected Jeremy Strohmeyer's request to recant his guilty plea in the 1997 casino bathroom slaying of 7-year-old Sherrice Iverson, saying the Long Beach resident benefited from the "A-Team of legal counsel."
Judge Joseph T. Bonaventure, noting that Strohmeyer testified Tuesday that he wanted justice in the case, said that the high school student was clearly guilty and was clearly defended adequately by his lawyers, Leslie Abramson and Richard Wright. By accepting a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole, Strohmeyer avoided the risk of receiving the death penalty if a jury found him guilty.
"The reality of being behind bars for the rest of his life must be more and more disheartening," the judge said. "But for poor little Sherrice, she'll never again be able to walk the face of the earth, and her family will never be whole."
The judge also noted that Strohmeyer testified that he "wants the truth."
"I can't tell you why you did what you did," the judge said to Strohmeyer, "but you did in fact kidnap and kill Sherrice Iverson."
Bonaventure issued his ruling at the conclusion of a two-day hearing in the Clark County Courthouse, where Strohmeyer's current attorneys had argued that his initial defense team of Abramson and Wright were incompetent and coerced Strohmeyer to plead guilty in 1998 to the murder, kidnapping and sexual assault of Iverson.
Had Strohmeyer been informed of the possibility that he might have been sentenced to only a 25-year-to-life sentence--which his initial defense counsel said this week was a fantasy--he might have insisted on a trial in the first place.
Strohmeyer's current attorneys also argued that had their client understood all the potential appeals he may have decided to pursue his case before a jury.
Abramson, of Los Angeles, and Wright, of Las Vegas, both testified that Strohmeyer had no strong chances for appeals and that he would probably receive a death sentence if he had gone to trial.
Clark County Dist. Atty. Stewart Bell said after Wednesday's ruling that "Justice was done a year ago (when Strohmeyer pleaded guilty) and justice was done again today."
Strohmeyer's attorney, Robert Preuss of New York City, said he would appeal the judge's decision. Preuss, who is a cousin of Strohmeyer's father, John Strohmeyer, said he was shocked when he learned of his family's connection to the sensational murder, and admitted wondering to himself "what kind of person would do this."
"All I can tell you," he said after the ruling, "is that this is a decent young man and this is a tragedy."
In his 40-minute oral ruling, the judge Wednesday had nothing but the highest praise for Abramson and Wright. He said Abramson's "is a name synonymous with competency." He said she is able to command "her well-deserved fee."
Abramson received $250,000 from Strohmeyer's family to defend him.
The judge acknowledged that the lawyer may have used "a heavy hand" in encouraging Strohmeyer to consider a guilty plea but that "she was acting in Jeremy's best interest."