Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Point of No Return: The Case of Peter Bergna

Verdict

In a dramatic flourish to finish the case, DDA Clifton asked the jury to consider this question: if the truck had such problems with braking, why had the defendant replaced his damaged vehicle with another Ford truck? Not once, but twice. That was something to think about.

The trial had lasted six weeks and this time, after three days, the jury members agreed: they found Bergna guilty. As they were polled, he sat at the defense table shaking his head in disbelief. Then he was handcuffed and taken away. Schwartz refused to comment for reporters, but Clifton said he was ecstatic.

The next day, the jury recommended that Bergna receive life in prison, with eligibility for parole after twenty years. Bergna began to sob, burying his head in his attorneys' shoulder for comfort. He would be an old man before he got out and he would surely lose his fiancée.

Although he had not testified, Bergna now rose to read a statement: "Please believe me that I felt and still feel great sadness following the death of my friend and my wife. Not one day will ever go by or has gone by that I will not think about Rinette and what she meant to me and my family."

Schwartz put an arm around him and later told the press he was convinced this was an erroneous verdict. He vowed to prove his client was innocent.

Some jurors commented to the Reno Gazette-Journal about what had assisted them in their decision. The fact that Bergna had been wearing gloves and heavy clothing in June had seemed suspicious, as if he knew he'd need protection, as had his tale that he'd been ejected feet first from the truck. And how had he been smoking a cigar as he'd stated, they wondered, while wearing gloves? In addition, they weren't convinced that he could have been talking to the 911 dispatcher, telling her he was sliding. Instead, on a precipice that steep, they believed he'd be using his hands to stop himself. In their minds, he had not been down the slope when he made the call.

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