Wednesday, October 09, 2002

Man pleads insanity in slaying of Nancy DePriest, Jeanette Popp's Daughter

Prosecutor says need for sacrifice drove killer 
Man plead insanity in slaying of Pizza Hut worker as trial opens with details of crime. 

By Jason Spencer 


Wednesday, October 9, 2002 

Achim Josef Marino pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity Tuesday to a capital murder charge, even though a psychiatrist hired by his defense team has concluded that Marino knew right from wrong when he raped and killed Nancy De Priest 14 years ago. 

Marino, 43, faces an automatic life sentence if convicted because prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty. 

He has said he originally planned to plead guilty to De Priest's slaying, but he changed his plea to protest the guilty verdict in the Andrea Yates case last spring. 

The jury in that case rejected her insanity plea and sentenced her to life in prison for drowning her five children at her Houston home. 

Marino is expected to testify later in the trial. 

Assistant District Attorney Bryan Case told jurors in his opening statement that Marino set out the morning of Oct. 24, 1988, looking for a victim to kill in a satanic sacrifice. 

Marino posed as a soda machine repairman to trick De Priest, 20, into letting him into the Pizza Hut on Reinli Street, Case said. 

"Nancy De Priest didn't know it, but the minute she opened that door, she was a dead woman," Case said. 

Inside, Marino handcuffed and raped De Priest, the married mother of a 14-month-old girl, before shooting her in the back of the head, Case said. 

Austin police Detective Scott Ehlert was a patrol officer in 1988 and was the first officer dispatched to the Pizza Hut after a store manager found De Priest naked in a pool of bloody water outside the women's restroom. 

Ehlert testified that at first he thought De Priest was dead. 

"Once I got closer to her, I was able to see that she was still breathing," Ehlert said. She had a faint pulse but was unconscious, Ehlert said. 

De Priest died at Brackenridge Hospital. 

Marino sat upright, appearing to pay close attention to the day's testimony. 

Across the courtroom, De Priest's mother, Jeanette Popp, sat on the front row, clutching an unframed picture of her daughter. She wept as police described her daughter's death. 

Popp asked prosecutors not to seek the death penalty against Marino after meeting him in prison. 

Marino stole between $100 and $150 from the store safe, wiped the counters free of fingerprints, then searched frantically for the spent .22-caliber shell casing that ejected from his pistol, Case said. He didn't find it. 

Another psychiatrist is expected to testify that Marino's attempt to cover up the crime helped prove that he knew killing De Priest was wrong, although he probably suffered from bipolar disorder. 

Marino confessed to the crime in 1996, telling authorities that he wanted to set the record straight after converting to Christianity while serving three life sentences for robbery. 

Christopher Ochoa and Richard Danziger, two men serving life sentences for De Priest's death, were freed from prison in 2001 after DNA evidence confirmed that Marino was the killer. Ochoa and Danziger had spent nearly 11 years behind bars. 

Ochoa has said Austin police detectives coerced him into confessing to the murder by threatening him with the death penalty. Ochoa pleaded guilty and testified against Danziger. 

In his three-minute opening statement Tuesday, defense lawyer Larry Sauer asked the jury of eight women and four men to scrutinize police officers' testimony against Marino, reminding them that another jury wrongly convicted Danziger of the crime after hearing much of the same evidence. 

"You need to look at everything they've done with a very critical eye," Sauer said. 

He told jurors that Marino has been tormented by what he believes are demons in his head since 1964. 

Sauer, however, did not mention the insanity defense in his opening statement. 

Outside the courtroom, Sauer said he intends to argue later in the trial that Marino's mental illness prevented him from knowing right from wrong when he killed De Priest.

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