I-Team: Trial Delays Keep Victims Waiting for Years - 8 News NOW

I-Team: Trial Delays Keep Victims Waiting for Years

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Robert Jackson Robert Jackson

LAS VEGAS -- Justice delayed is justice denied for crime victims who must wait a long time for their case to get to court. That's what Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson is saying about a number of high profile cases that have stretched on for years.

This issue of trial delays pits the district attorney's office against local judges. Both are fighting the battle between protecting the rights of victims, as well as defendants.

There is a word that seems to be increasingly common when you look at trial notes -- continuance. The continuances came to light in a case recently brought forward by the I-Team. Robert Jackson is charged with a 2007 shooting in front of O'Shea's Casino on the Las Vegas Strip. Police say he meant to shoot at an opposing gang, but four tourists were hit and injured including Brittany O'Dale.

"At this point, it feels like there's very little motivation to have a speedy trial when he's basically living the free life now," O'Dale said.

After four years as one of the country's most wanted fugitives, Jackson was arrested in 2011. But after multiple continuances, Jackson's bail was reduced from $500,000, to $250,000, to house arrest and finally to no curfew at all.

District Attorney Steve Wolfson's office fought Jackson's bail reduction every step of the way while also fighting the consistent delays in the trial.

"The prosecutors in the DA's office push to get these cases to go to trial. We're going to continue to push. It's the judges that control their calendars," said Wolfson.

The district attorney's office did the math and figures local judges oversee an average of 11 murder cases each. District Attorney Wolfson points out the Jackson case is by no means the one with the most continuances. One death penalty case had 14 continuances. Just months ago, a jury agreed to keep Richard Haberstroh on death row for a 1986 murder.

"Cases always got continued when I was a prosecutor. I would always tell my victims the same thing, I know you're upset, but all the chips have to be in the right place. All the pieces of the puzzle. We want to do this once, we want to do it right and never do it again," Chief District Judge Jennifer Togliatti said.

The Jackson trial was repeatedly continued in part because Jackson's defense attorney couldn't fit it in his schedule with other felony cases he took on. In the courts, it's a practice nicknamed "riding the continuance train."

The I-Team asked Togliatti at what point should the courts step in and tell a defense attorney to be ready or appoint a public defender.

"Remove a paid lawyer from a case that a client paid to have and have a taxpayer funded attorney come in? That's a tough pill to swallow," Togliatti said.

Wolfson refuses to blame current judges for trial delays. But the DA, a former defense attorney himself, admits missing what he called the "no-nonsense" speedy trials from past judges.

"Everybody knew that if you were going for a continuance in front of judge Stu Bell or Joe Bonaventure, they were going to hold your feet to the fire," Wolfson said.

Blame budget cuts, complex cases or effective defense attorneys, there appears to be no clear answer to what's causing trial delays to drag on for years. The chief judge says new overflow courts and better case tracking systems will somewhat help reduce time to trial. But there appears to be no new ideas to put an effective brake on the "continuance train."

O'Dale hopes the Jackson trial won't be delayed any longer. If it gets to trial as scheduled in June 2014, it will be a full seven years since she was shot in the leg on the Las Vegas Strip.

"I think about him, quite literally, with every step that I take, because every step is painful," O'Dale said.

Jackson entered a not guilty plea on the charges of attempted murder.  He denies being in a gang and knowing he was on the U.S. Marshals's most wanted fugitive list for four years. He, and his attorney, have declined all interview requests.

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