LAS VEGAS (AP) — Police knew a 19-year-old suspect in a shooting that killed a neighborhood mother of four smoked marijuana before he surrendered during a standoff last week, and investigators questioned him while he was high, a defense lawyer said Tuesday.
Erich Milton Nowsch Jr. smoked pot while he talked by telephone with Las Vegas police during the Thursday standoff at his home, attorney Augustus Claus said.
"Not only did they let him, but they watched him do it," Claus told The Associated Press. "They were trying to talk him down."
Claus said the drug use might have calmed his client and avoided a violent SWAT entry into the house. But he said it cast doubt on anything Nowsch told investigators once he was in custody.
"There's a good argument that you can't use whatever you get," he said. "People tend to say things that aren't entirely credible when they're under the influence."
Police referred questions to Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson, who didn't immediately respond to messages about the case marked by stunning revelations and conflicting accounts from authorities and the family of the slain woman, Tammy Meyers.
Nowsch made an initial court appearance Monday, and his lawyers and Meyers' husband, Robert Meyers, said they don't think the case involved road rage, as originally believed.
Wolfson has called the slaying a "senseless, stupid act of murder," and characterized the investigation and prosecution as "not a straightforward case."
Nowsch faces a preliminary hearing March 10 to determine if he should stand trial on charges of murder, attempted murder and firing a weapon from a vehicle. Wolfson would then decide whether to seek the death penalty.
Claus said his brother and co-counsel in Nowsch's case, Conrad Claus, believes Nowsch can claim self-defense because Tammy Meyers had her 22-year-old son, Brandon Meyers, fetch his gun and go driving around the neighborhood with her before the Feb. 12 shooting.
Tammy Meyers, 44, was wounded in the head and died on Valentine's Day after two days on life-support.
Initially, the family said Tammy Meyers was confronted by an angry motorist after a late-night driving lesson with her teenage daughter at a neighborhood school, and was shot after they were followed home.
It's unclear if Nowsch and Tammy Meyers recognized each other during the shootings.
Robert Meyers has said his wife and Nowsch sometimes encountered each other in a neighborhood park, and that Nowsch had been to the Meyers family home.
Nowsch also was probably familiar with the family's Buick, Meyers said, but might not have seen it since the windows were tinted dark last summer.
Robert Meyers said this week he thinks his wife realized she was in danger, and died trying to lure a motorist who threatened her away from her home.
The public was first told that Brandon Meyers grabbed his gun and came out of the house, firing at a fleeing silver car.
It wasn't until last week that family members and police revealed that Tammy Meyers dropped her daughter at home and went back out with Brandon Meyers and the family's green Buick Park Avenue sedan.
That led to gunfire several blocks from the Meyers home, where police said no one was injured and they found six .45-caliber bullet casings.
Brandon Meyers didn't fire his 9mm handgun at that time, police said, but he fired three shots in return during the fatal fusillade that followed on the cul-de-sac outside the Meyers home.
Police have said investigators are still looking for an accomplice who was with Nowsch, and that questions about the case eventually will be answered.
Investigators said Nowsch told friends he was at a neighborhood park when he became alarmed by a green car driving around a nearby school parking lot. He phoned a friend with a silver Audi sedan to come get him.
Police also said Nowsch bragged to his friends several hours after the shooting that he "got those kids" who were after him.
Nowsch showed his friends a .45-caliber handgun and told them he fired several shots during the first encounter and 22 shots in the cul-de-sac, according to a police report.
Robert Meyers said that on Feb. 15, after social media accounts suggested Nowsch might have been involved in the shooting, he and two of his sons walked a block to the modest home where Nowsch lived with his single mother and her 1-month-old baby.
Robert Meyers said he spoke with Nowsch's mother, but Nowsch wasn't home.