Appeal in attempted murder conviction |

Appeal in attempted murder conviction

An oral argument appealing the conviction in a high-profile attempted murder of a Nevada City woman is set for 9:30 a.m. Monday in the Third District California Court of Appeal in Sacramento.

It is a legal duty to file the appeal for attempted murderer and arsonist Fred Engel, one defense lawyer said. But victim Susan Wallace said this week she was surprised she had not been notified.

Engel was sentenced to life in prison in October 2006 for stabbing Wallace and slashing her throat, killing her dogs, and entering and burning down her Victorian home in Nevada City in May 2005. Engel’s sanity was heavily debated during the trial, though jurors decided he was legally sane while committing the crimes.

“The focus Monday will be on whether the jury instructions, the way the judge worded it, accurately stated the legal standards of insanity and communicated the idea to the jury in a fair way,” said defense lawyer Stephen Munkelt, of Nevada City. “I do know there were extensive arguments about the wording of the (jury) instructions on the issue of insanity, (which) … is a complex one.”

“One of the primary obligations of trial counsel is to file a notice of appeal,” added Munkelt, who started the appeal process.

Monday’s hearing will involve state Deputy Attorney General Robert Nash representing the people and San Francisco-based lawyer Dennis Riordan representing Engel.

Wallace expressed surprise she wasn’t informed about the hearing when she learned about it from a reporter for The Union. But Nevada County District Attorney Cliff Newell said that is usual at this level of the court process.

“Victims are not typically notified during the appeals process,” Newell said.

“Once the prisoner is eligible for parole, that’s when the district attorney’s office and the victim are notified,” Newell said. “That’s when we go to the hearing and try to get the parole denied, depending on the circumstances.

“There’s no reason for our presence at this hearing. It’s being handled by the (California) attorney general’s office,” Newell said.

“Victims Services … is going to make sure I get future notifications of these hearings,” Wallace said.

To contact Soumitro Sen, e-mail or call 477-4229.

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