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Case Summary

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Case Synopsis

On February 5, 2001, the general manager of Canyon Gate Mini Storage discovered the decomposing body of Christine Smith in the storage unit owned by Smith and her daughter, appellant Brookey Lee West. Smith’s body was sealed in a garbage can wrapped with duct tape, garbage bags and cellophane wrap. A white plastic bag, knotted at the back of her head, covered Smith’s nose and mouth. Upon searching West’s apartment, police discovered Smith’s bank statements. The police determined that there were numerous ATM withdrawals on Smith’s bank account after February 1998, when Smith was last seen alive. West was charged with murdering Smith by asphyxiation, suffocation, or manner or means unknown. At trial, expert testimony was provided regarding the decomposed body of Smith. An expert for the state opined that the cause and manner of death was undeterminable due to the severity of decomposition. Yet, the finding of the plastic bag covering Smith’s face was consistent with suffocation. The expert also stated that it was possible Smith was placed in the garbage can alive. Although West did not testify at trial, West’s counsel stipulated that she admitted to placing Smith’s body in the garbage can. West was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole for the murder of her mother, Christine Smith. On appeal, West argued that there was insufficient evidence of criminal agency, the charging information was vague, the district court erroneously admitted gruesome photographic evidence, and the prosecutor committed misconduct during closing argument. The Nevada Supreme Court concluded that West’s contentions lacked merit and affirmed the decision of the district court.