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Case Synopsis

Appellant Robert McConnell murdered Brian Pierce in August 2002. The State of Nevada charged McConnell with first-degree murder and sought capital sentencing. The State alleged two theories: deliberate, premeditated murder and felony murder during the perpetration of a burglary. McConnell represented himself, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, and presented a case in mitigation at his penalty hearing. The jury returned a sentence of death. Initially, McConnell moved to waive his appeal but eventually reconsidered and authorized counsel to fully brief all issues on appeal. Specifically, McConnell challenged the propriety of his penalty hearing and death sentence on various grounds. The court found, in all but one instance, his claims had no merit. The one issue which the court addressed in depth was McConnell’s argument that because the aggravating circumstance of burglary also served as an element of felony murder, it thereby failed to perform its constitutional function of narrowing death eligibility.