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No death penalty in pot homicide

Finley Fultz

The Nevada County District Attorney’s Office will not seek the death penalty against any of the three defendants in a pot-related homicide.

Just a week ago, District Attorney Cliff Newell said he had not ruled out pushing for the death penalty for Daniel Louis Devencenzi, 31; Finley Byrdtte Fultz, 27; and Nathan Robert Philbrook, 32, on charges of murder in the first degree in the course of a robbery, in the July 7, 2014 shooting death of Isaac Zafft at a marijuana grow.

But in court Tuesday, Assistant District Attorney Joe Alexander said that option has been ruled out.



Fultz’s court-appointed attorney, Greg Klein, had filed a motion with the court asking to be relieved as counsel if the prosecution pursued the death penalty, writing that “the professional workload and emotional commitment this would require would be immediate and intense.”

“Accepting this case would require me to close my office and spend the next three to 10 years” defending Fultz, Klein’s motion stated.




Fultz, who is believed to have been the shooter, also has been charged with personal use of a firearm, personal discharge of a firearm, and personal discharge of a firearm causing death.

After an Aug. 23 hearing, Klein said the District Attorney’s Office refusal to commit to trying the homicide as a death penalty case was an “ultra-expensive non-decision that is likely to cost them a million per defendant.”

Newell, however, defended the delay, saying he was not going to compromise the integrity of the prosecution’s case and adding, “We don’t even have the third defendant in Nevada County yet.”

Newell subsequently opted not to wait for that to happen, however.

“We convened a meeting, and determined we would not go forward with the death penalty,” he said. “We will look for life without parole.

“The case was initially charged as a death penalty option because of the brutal way that young man was allegedly murdered,” Newell continued. “But after reviewing all the information, the defendants’ backgrounds and all the evidence we currently have, we decided would be better prosecuted as life without parole.”

Newell declined to elaborate on that evidence.

Philbrook currently is incarcerated at High Desert State Prison outside Las Vegas. Alexander told Superior Court Judge Robert Tice-Raskin that a governor’s extradition warrant was on the Nevada governor’s desk and was expected to be signed by Friday, adding that he expected the extradition to take place within the next few weeks.

The defendants are scheduled to return to court Sept. 22.

To contact City Editor Liz Kellar, email lkellar@theunion.com or call 530-477-4229.


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