- Associated Press - Thursday, June 26, 2014

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) - The Nevada Supreme Court overturned the death penalty conviction Thursday of a 65-year-old man who has been on death row since he was found guilty in 2010 of raping and bludgeoning a Nellis Air Force Base service member to death with a hammer in June 1985.

The court ruled 4-3 that a Clark County District Court judge should have allowed defense attorneys to argue against excusing a black prospective juror during Charles Reese Conner’s trial in the slaying of 23-year-old Beth Lynn Jardine.

It wasn’t clear Thursday if prosecutors would seek a new trial or offer Conner a plea deal. Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson didn’t immediately respond to messages.

Clark County Public Defender Philip Kohn noted Conner’s age and deteriorating health and said he hoped an agreement could be reached. Defense attorneys noted that Conner had been willing to plead guilty in 2010 in return for a chance at life in prison without parole.

Jardine was an airman second class whose nude body was found in her northeast Las Vegas apartment, where neighbors reported seeing her with Conner and hearing noises that sounded like the cupboard doors slamming.

Conner was arrested in Arkansas in 2007 after a cold case analysis of DNA evidence from Jardine’s body.

Conner had been convicted in Arkansas of raping and kidnapping a 10-year-old girl.

He admitted killing Jardine, but contended that it wasn’t premeditated and the sex was consensual.

Justice Michael Cherry, who wrote the court’s majority decision, said Judge Elissa Cadish should have allowed Conner’s defense attorneys to lodge an objection to prosecutors’ exclusion of the juror.

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