The investigation of the murder of local bookmaker
Bruce Weinstein is focusing on two people: his former live-in
girlfriend, who is in jail in Maryland, and her former business
partner, who is on the lam.
Amy DeChant, 48, who was living with the
46-year-old Weinstein when he disappeared July 5 from his southwest
Las Vegas home, was arrested three weeks later in Bel Air, Md., after
police found more than $100,000 in cash, false birth certificates and
wigs in her car.
"She is a suspect, although she has not been
charged in this case," said Metro homicide Sgt. Ken Hefner. "We're
continuing with our investigation."
Police also are searching for Robert Wayne Jones,
57, DeChant's business partner, who vanished July 12, five days after
homicide detectives began investigating Weinstein's disappearance.
A warrant has been issued for Jones' arrest, and
Weinstein's family has offered a $10,000 reward for information
leading to his whereabouts.
"I've come to the conclusion that if he hasn't been
in touch with me by now, he has to be dead," said Jones' wife, Cheryl,
a former floor supervisor at the Bourbon Street poker room, which
Weinstein and DeChant frequented.
Weinstein's remains, which were discovered Aug. 11
in a makeshift grave off the Old Alamo Highway about a half mile west
of State Route 168, were positively identified Wednesday.
Clark County Coroner Ron Flud has listed the case
as a homicide.
Because the body was badly decomposed, it took
investigators a lot of time and effort to make a positive
"We had to get the dental records and do some
additional work," Hefner said.
But Weinstein's family is not happy about the
"We're very upset," said Sylvia White, Weinstein's
mother. "We've waited and suffered an extra four weeks, and it's
seemed like an eternity. If we had known earlier, we could have put a
lot of this behind us."
A funeral service for Weinstein is planned at 11
a.m. Wednesday at Memory Memorial Park on Lone Mountain Road.
After the funeral, White says she will look forward
to only one thing: "I hope to find justice. I want the person who has
committed this crime to answer for the pain she has caused."
White makes no secret of the fact that she believes
DeChant murdered her son.
"I can't tell you I'm 100 percent sure, but the
police believe it, and I believe it, and no one just runs away and
wears and changes her looks and her identity."
But not everyone who knew the businesswoman and
former casino worker believes she is guilty.
"I just can't believe that she can do this," said
Roy Seider, 53, a former poker room supervisor at the old Vegas World
casino, who got to know DeChant after she worked there briefly three
years ago as an extra board poker dealer.
Possibly because DeChant and Seider both are from
northern New Jersey, the two immediately hit it off, and over the past
three years Seider has remained one of DeChant's closest friends.
"We got to be good friends, and she was always very
nice," Seider said. "She helped me out a number of times. When I was
short, she'd pay for dinner. She'd loan me money, stuff like that."
DeChant last telephoned Seider from prison on
"She said she's going to come back here and clear
her name because she's innocent," Seider said.
To do so, DeChant will have to come up with answers
to some very serious questions.
Investigators point out that DeChant operated a
carpet cleaning business and police found blood stains in the freshly
cleaned carpets of Weinstein's home after searching for clues to his
Other sources point out that a rolled-up spare
piece of carpet is believed to be missing from the garage of the home,
and that DeChant changed her story about the events leading to
Weinstein's disappearance before she and Jones disappeared.
"Bobby seemed as normal as pie when I last spoke
with him over the telephone," said a family friend who has worked as a
"The last time I spoke to him was at 9 a.m. the
morning of July 12, and I think the police spoke to him at 9:45, and
by noon he was gone," the friend said. "He disappeared. He left
without clothing, money, even a toothbrush."
Meanwhile, Cheryl Jones said life has not been easy
in the weeks since her husband's disappearance.
"I'm just taking it one day at a time," she said.
Others who knew DeChant and Jones said they'd like
to believe that all this has been a bad dream.
"I would like to believe that she's innocent, and
perhaps she somehow got in something over her head and got caught in
the middle," Seider said.
But another acquaintance said she would like to
believe DeChant is innocent but she has her doubts.
"I could never take to Amy," the casino worker
said. "She's too sweet -- the type that's always smiling."
Supreme Court of Nevada
DeChant v. State
Amy Rica DeCHANT, Appellant,
The STATE of Nevada, Respondent.
October 19, 2000
BEFORE MAUPIN, SHEARING and BECKER, JJ.
Daniel J. Albregts, Ltd., Las Vegas, for
Appellant.Frankie Sue Del Papa, Attorney General, Carson City; Stewart
L. Bell, District Attorney, James Tufteland, Chief Deputy District
Attorney, and Marc P. DiGiacomo, Deputy District Attorney, Clark
County, for Respondent.
On the night of July 5, 1996, Bruce Charles
Weinstein (“Weinstein”), an illegal bookmaker, disappeared from his
Las Vegas home. Suspicious of the circumstances surrounding
Weinstein's disappearance, his family hired a private investigator,
Michael R. Wysocki (“Wysocki”), to determine what happened to
Weinstein. Wysocki's investigative efforts focused on Weinstein's
live-in love interest, Amy Rica DeChant (“DeChant”). After a week of
investigation, Wysocki reported what he had learned to the police. The
police then began an official investigation and interviewed DeChant.
In a videotaped statement to the police, DeChant recounted that
Weinstein was murdered by masked intruders who told her to clean up
the evidence and to remain silent. DeChant inferred that Weinstein was
killed by individuals connected with organized crime (“mob”)
activities. Eventually, DeChant and one of her employees, Robert Wayne
Jones (“Jones”), were indicted for the murder and robbery of
Weinstein. During trial, over DeChant's objections, the State
introduced testimony from a veteran police officer that DeChant's
statements about Weinstein being the victim of a mob hit were not
credible. This testimony was emphasized by the State during closing
arguments. DeChant also attempted to subpoena Wysocki's investigative
notes, but her request was denied by the district court, which
concluded that the notes were privileged under Nevada law.
We conclude that the officer's testimony and the
State's reference to the testimony in the State's closing argument
impermissibly commented on the veracity of DeChant's statement.
Moreover, the district court erred in concluding that Wysocki's notes
were privileged. Because of the effect of these errors, we reverse and
remand for a new trial.
In the fall of 1995, DeChant, an operator of a
successful carpet cleaning business, became romantically involved with
Weinstein, an illegal bookmaker working in Las Vegas. DeChant
eventually lived with Weinstein at his new home.
The following summer, the two planned a vacation
for the week after the Fourth of July. On July 5, 1996, two days
before the trip was to begin, Weinstein disappeared from his home.
Weinstein's neighbor, Yohan Lowie (“Lowie”), testified that at 10:00
p.m. that evening, he heard three popping sounds, which he thought
were fireworks left over from the Fourth of July.
The next morning, Weinstein's friends and family
became alarmed when Weinstein failed to follow his normal practice of
calling in to work. Silvia White, Weinstein's mother, went over to
Weinstein's house in the early afternoon. Inside, she noticed that an
area of the carpet was wet, smelled strongly of vinegar, and was
surrounded by brown spots. When White spoke with DeChant, DeChant told
her that Weinstein had left the night before with instructions that if
he was not back before the vacation began, she was to leave without
him and he would meet her later.
The next day, July 7, 1996, White and a family
friend agreed to hire a private investigator, Wysocki, to help
determine what happened to Weinstein. In the initial days of Wysocki's
investigation, he focused his efforts on DeChant because several of
Weinstein's acquaintances suspected DeChant. At trial, Wysocki
testified that when he first asked DeChant about the night of the
disappearance, she maintained her story that Weinstein had told her
that he was going out and would meet her on vacation if he did not
come back in time.
Then on Thursday, July 11, 1996, when DeChant spoke
with Wysocki again, Wysocki testified that DeChant told him that she
was planning to leave the country and that she had done research about
which countries would not extradite her. However, on
cross-examination, Wysocki was unsure of whether he or DeChant first
brought up the topic of extradition.
On Friday, July 12, 1996, DeChant had another
conversation with Wysocki, and Wysocki testified that DeChant told him
a new version of the events surrounding Weinstein's disappearance.
According to Wysocki, DeChant said that she was at home the night of
July 5th when four masked intruders came in, took Weinstein upstairs,
beat him up, shot him, and then took his body out of the house. The
intruders then told DeChant, whom they had put in a downstairs room
during the shooting, to clean up the mess and that if anyone ever
asked her what happened, she should tell them that Weinstein had gone
out but did not say where he was going. These intruders also told
DeChant that they were watching her and would kill her if they found
out that she had told anyone what really happened.
The next day, DeChant gave a taped interview to
homicide detectives where she repeated her story about the masked
intruders. In this interview, DeChant also stated that she had
received a call from the intruders several days after the murder
reminding DeChant that they were watching her. Because of Weinstein's
illegal bookmaking activities, DeChant's statement implied that
Weinstein was killed by organized crime figures, i.e., “the mob.”
Homicide detectives now began an exhaustive search
of Weinstein's Las Vegas home, DeChant's car, Weinstein's car, and the
truck DeChant used for the cleaning business. The police also
investigated the relationship between DeChant and her employee Jones,
and the possible involvement of Jones in Weinstein's disappearance.
The investigation uncovered a blood trail from the master bedroom,
down the stairs, and into the foyer area. However, no murder weapon,
shell casings, or bullet holes were ever found at the scene. Further,
no blood stains or carpet fibers were found in any of the vehicles.
Finally, detectives searched a safety deposit box that DeChant had
opened at a Las Vegas hotel where they found $35,000.00 in sports book
chips and a bag of jewelry.
In August of 1996, Weinstein's body was found in a
remote area outside of Las Vegas. A .38 caliber bullet was found
inside the body and determined to be the cause of death, but ballistic
tests could not be performed because of the condition of the bullet.
Later, a .38 caliber gun was found in a desert area outside of Vegas
that was traced to Mathew Hunt (“Hunt”), a friend of Jones's son. Hunt
testified that he had traded the gun to Jones's son.
On September 12, 1997, DeChant and Jones were both
indicted for conspiracy to commit robbery and/or murder, murder with
the use of a deadly weapon, robbery with the use of a deadly weapon,
and accessory to murder.
Prior to trial, a hearing was held concerning
DeChant's subpoena duces tecum for Wysocki's notes and billing records
regarding his investigation. In that hearing, the State took no
position. Instead Wysocki was represented by independent counsel who
argued that Wysocki was not permitted to divulge the information.
Wysocki's argument was based on NRS 648.200, which forbids private
investigators from divulging information acquired, except at the
request of the client or as “required by law.” The district court
concluded that the statute created a privilege that Wysocki could
invoke, and thus the district court did not have the discretion to
order the disclosure of Wysocki's raw notes.
At trial, Wysocki claimed that all the information
he had in his notes was included in a ninety-eight-page report that
was prepared after a police interview. Further, Wysocki stated that if
he had had anything to add to the report, he would have just informed
the police verbally without preparing any additional writings.
During trial, the State sought to introduce the
testimony of Alfred Leavitt (“Leavitt”), a former Las Vegas
Metropolitan Police Department detective with thirty years of
experience in investigating homicides, including some involving
organized crime. The State had previously asked Leavitt to review
DeChant's videotaped police statement, which was shown at trial, and
to form an opinion as to whether DeChant's statements regarding a mob
hit were credible.
DeChant objected to Leavitt's testimony on the
grounds that it impermissibly commented on the veracity of DeChant's
statement. At a hearing outside the presence of the jury, the State
acknowledged that it was not introducing Leavitt as an expert witness
on the characteristics of organized crime murders. Instead, the State
indicated that it wanted to draw on Leavitt's personal experiences
with organized crime murders to support Leavitt's opinions about the
credibility of DeChant's statements. The State argued that:
Based on that experience and that included some 30
years as a police officer and hundreds of such investigations, he
examined the statement given by Ms. DeChant to the police and pointed
out several particulars in which her version of what happened was not
credible as involving a mob hit ․
The district court denied the objection and
permitted Leavitt's testimony.
At trial, Leavitt testified that he had reviewed
and evaluated DeChant's statement and found several inconsistencies.
First, Leavitt highlighted DeChant's claim that the “mob” committed
the crime while DeChant was at home and commented that when the “mob”
killed somebody they did not leave witnesses. Leavitt explained that
if this were a “mob hit,” the “mob” would have waited for Weinstein to
be alone or would have killed DeChant as well. Further, after
reiterating DeChant's claim that the “mob” contacted her later,
Leavitt testified that he had never experienced a case where the “mob”
would call a witness to remind her that she was being watched. Leavitt
also testified that DeChant's claim that Weinstein's body was removed
from the scene was inconsistent with his experience because the “mob”
would have left the body. Finally, Leavitt commented generally that
nothing about DeChant's statement fit with his experience.
In addition, although the district court instructed
Leavitt not to give his personal opinions as to the veracity of
DeChant's statement, Leavitt commented that DeChant's story was a
“fairy tale” and that he did not believe it for one second. Leavitt
further stated that he did not believe that portion of DeChant's
statement claiming that she received a phone call from the intruders.
The district court sustained DeChant's objection to
these statements and ordered some of the testimony stricken. The
district court also instructed the jury to disregard Leavitt's
opinions about DeChant's veracity. However, during closing argument,
the prosecutor repeated Leavitt's description of DeChant's story as a
“fairy tale,” and used Leavitt's testimony as a basis for inferring
that DeChant was a liar.
At the conclusion of the trial, DeChant was
convicted and sentenced for first-degree murder with the use of a
deadly weapon and robbery with the use of a deadly weapon.
Leavitt's testimony and the prosecutor's
comments regarding DeChant's veracity
DeChant first contends that the district court
erred in allowing Leavitt to testify at trial because his testimony
impermissibly stated an opinion concerning DeChant's truthfulness and
the State improperly used it to infer DeChant's guilt.1
We agree that this testimony and the prosecutor's comments during
closing, constituted an impermissible comment on the veracity of
Initially, we note that there is some dispute with
respect to whether Leavitt's testimony was expert or lay opinion. The
record reveals that the district court allowed Leavitt's testimony as
lay opinion, despite the fact that the testimony essentially consisted
of specialized knowledge obtained through experience as a police
detective. Accordingly, we will treat Leavitt as a lay witness. See
Johnson v. Egtedar, 112 Nev. 428, 436, 915 P.2d 271, 276 (1996) (“The
scope of a witness' testimony and whether a witness will be permitted
to testify as an expert witness are within the discretion of the trial
court, and the trial court's ruling will not be disturbed unless there
is an abuse of discretion.”).
In general, “it is exclusively within the province
of the trier of fact to weigh evidence and pass on the credibility of
witnesses and their testimony.” Lay v. State, 110 Nev. 1189, 1192, 886
P.2d 448, 450 (1994). Thus, a lay witness's opinion concerning the
veracity of the statement of another is inadmissible. See Sterling v.
State, 108 Nev. 391, 397, 834 P.2d 400, 404 (1992) (“Lay opinion about
the veracity of particular statements by another is inadmissible on
that issue.”) (quoting People v. Melton, 44 Cal.3d 713, 244 Cal.Rptr.
867, 750 P.2d 741, 758 (1988)).2
In this case, the State did not question Leavitt
solely about his experience with organized crime murders and then have
him testify, based upon that experience, that mob contract murders
have particular characteristics. In fact, the State conceded it was
not proposing to qualify Leavitt as an expert for that purpose.
Instead, the State asked Leavitt to review DeChant's statement and to
form “an opinion as to whether or not Ms. DeChant's story of a mob hit
Leavitt's testimony about his experiences with
organized crime continuously referenced DeChant's contrary claims and
had the ultimate effect of impermissibly attacking the veracity of
DeChant's statement and the heart of her defense. Moreover, Leavitt
made several comments directly stating his opinion of DeChant's
statement. For instance, Leavitt commented that DeChant's claim that
the mob committed the murder with DeChant at home was a “fairy tale”
and that he did not believe it for a second. Further, when asked about
DeChant's claim that she was later contacted by a mob individual
warning her to keep silent, Leavitt stated “I don't believe that
Finally, the prosecutor adopted Leavitt's language
during closing argument and concluded that DeChant's story was “a
fairy tale that was made up in her mind.” Additionally, there were
several other instances during the State's closing argument when the
prosecutor argued that DeChant's story was a “sham” based upon the
Leavitt testimony. The prosecution's combined comments served to
highlight and re-emphasize Leavitt's opinion of DeChant's credibility,
undermining the curative effect of the limiting instruction.
We conclude that the district court erred in
permitting Leavitt's testimony. Moreover, given the crucial nature of
Leavitt's testimony and the prosecutor's paraphrasing of Leavitt's
opinion during closing, we cannot say that the error was harmless.
The district court's quashing of DeChant's
subpoena duces tecum requesting Wysocki's notes
DeChant further contends that the district court
erred when it held that it did not have discretion to compel
disclosure of Wysocki's notes that he prepared during the initial days
of his investigation. Specifically, DeChant argues that the district
court misconstrued NRS 648.200, which the district court concluded
created a privilege in private investigators that prevented it from
ordering Wysocki to disclose his notes.
In relevant part, NRS 648.200 states:
It is unlawful for any licensee or any employee,
security guard, officer or member of any licensee:
1. To divulge to anyone, except as he may be so
required by law to do, any information acquired by him except at the
direction of the employer or client for whom the information was
Although we have not previously interpreted the
scope of NRS 648.200, two other states have dealt with identical
statutes. See Attorney General v. Pelletier, 240 Mass. 264, 134 N.E.
407, 418 (1922); People v. Roach, 215 N.Y. 592, 109 N.E. 618, 624
(1915). Both Pelletier and Roach conclude that such a statute affords
no privilege to an investigator or employee summoned as a witness in
court to give testimony as to facts concerning an issue under
investigation. Further, the Massachusetts court noted that “[t]he
statute was not intended to hamper the administration of justice but
simply to provide for the licensing and regulation of private
detectives and to protect them ․ from faithless employees.” Pelletier,
134 N.E. at 418-19.
We conclude that the “except as he may be so
required by law to do” language of the statute and the compelling
reasoning in Pelletier and Roach indicate that a district court does
have discretion to compel disclosure of documents in possession of a
private investigator that are relevant to trial and not covered by any
other privilege. Accordingly, the district court erred in quashing
DeChant's subpoena duces tecum based upon the provisions of NRS
Whether the cumulative error was prejudicial
Although we have concluded that the admission of
Leavitt's testimony alone would warrant reversal, we have also
analyzed the cumulative effect of the errors at trial.
We have stated that if the cumulative effect of
errors committed at trial denies the appellant his right to a fair
trial, this court will reverse the conviction. See Big Pond v. State,
101 Nev. 1, 3, 692 P.2d 1288, 1289 (1985). Relevant factors to
consider in deciding whether error is harmless or prejudicial include
whether “the issue of innocence or guilt is close, the quantity and
character of the error, and the gravity of the crime charged.” Id.
In this case, we first note that the evidence was
largely circumstantial, with inferences of guilt being drawn
principally from DeChant's actions after Weinstein's murder. We also
note the gravity of the first-degree murder and robbery charges upon
which DeChant was convicted.
More importantly, Leavitt's testimony was extremely
prejudicial as it directly undermined DeChant's version of facts and
was stated by a witness whom the State portrayed as a highly
experienced person with specialized knowledge. Finally, Leavitt's
expertise, and his opinions about DeChant's credibility, were
impermissibly referenced by the prosecution during closing argument.
Further, we conclude that the district court's
error in not compelling disclosure of Wysocki's investigative notes
was also of a prejudicial nature as Wysocki was a critical witness for
the State regarding DeChant's conduct during the first week of
Weinstein's disappearance. Thus, his notes were relevant to an
effective cross-examination by DeChant. Although Wysocki testified
that all his notes were reduced to the ninety-eight-page police
report, he also testified to his lucrative financial arrangement and
increasingly close relationship with the Weinsteins. DeChant cannot be
required to rely upon Wysocki's statements in this regard.
We conclude that even if the admission of Leavitt's
testimony could be considered harmless error, the cumulative effect of
the errors at trial denied DeChant her right to a fair trial and
We first conclude that Leavitt's testimony
regarding the veracity of DeChant's story and the State's comments
during closing argument were reversible error. Next, we conclude that
the district court erred in its interpretation of NRS 648.200, which
prevented DeChant from obtaining Wysocki's investigative notes.
Although the district court's admission of Leavitt's testimony was
reversible error, we also conclude that the cumulative effect of the
errors at trial was prejudicial. Therefore, we reverse and remand the
case to the district court for a new trial.4
also contends that the district court erred in denying her motion to
sever and that there was insufficient evidence to support her
convictions. Because we reverse this matter on other grounds, we need
not reach DeChant's contention respecting the motion to sever. We
further conclude, however, that sufficient evidence was presented to
establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt as determined by a rational
trier of fact.
the State argues that this case law does not apply because it involves
only opinions regarding another witness's testimony. Thus, the State
claims that because DeChant never took the stand and Leavitt offered
an opinion only of her out-of-court statement, which was introduced at
trial, the case law should not apply. However, we conclude that this
“testimony” versus “statement” distinction is, in this case, a
distinction without a difference. As noted above, the underlying
purpose for the inadmissibility of opinion evidence regarding the
truthfulness of another's statement is to prevent a witness from
invading the jury's function of being the sole authority in weighing
the evidence and determining the ultimate facts in a case. See
Townsend v. State, 103 Nev. 113, 117, 734 P.2d 705, 709 (1987) (it is
the prerogative of the jury to make unassisted factual
determinations). This purpose is equally important where the offending
witness comments on the credibility of a defendant's statement, which
embodies the defendant's version of facts. Therefore, we conclude the
State's argument lacks merit.
3. We note
that even if Leavitt were qualified as an expert, our conclusion would
not change as similar testimonial boundaries exist for experts. See
Lickey v. State, 108 Nev. 191, 196, 827 P.2d 824, 827 (1992) (“An
expert may not comment on the veracity of a witness.”) (citing
Townsend v. State, 103 Nev. 113, 118-19, 734 P.2d 705, 708-09 (1987)).
in this opinion is intended to prohibit the State from attempting to
introduce testimony from an individual with expertise in the patterns,
if any, surrounding organized crime murders. Assuming such testimony
was properly admitted, the State would also be free to argue that
DeChant's version of the events does not follow the pattern of a mob