LAS VEGAS (AP) — A 19-year-old man charged with murder in the killing of a Las Vegas mother in a neighborhood gunbattle suffered a fractured skull as an infant — an injury that lawyers said could become a factor in the case.
Erich Milton Nowsch Jr.'s father pleaded guilty in 1996 to child abuse for the injury, according to archived Clark County District Court documents reviewed by The Associated Press. The father killed himself in 2010 at 39 when his son was 14.
Attorney Augustus Claus said he wants to investigate the extent and effect of the injury on Nowsch before deciding whether to use it in his client's murder defense.
"Obviously, an injury like that has potential for long-term consequences," Claus said.
Nowsch also is facing attempted murder and weapon charges in the Feb. 12 shooting that killed Tammy Meyers and involved her 22-year-old son, Brandon Meyers.
The case received international attention after family members said she was the victim of road rage while giving her daughter a driving lesson. Road rage was later revealed to be less a factor than originally thought.
Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson will consider Nowsch's childhood injury while deciding whether to seek the death penalty against him. David Stanton, the chief deputy district attorney handling the case, declined to comment.
Dr. Jeffrey Max, neuropsychiatric research director at Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego, said a doctor evaluating Nowsch would consider the severity of the injury, Nowsch's personal and family psychiatric history, evidence of defiance, mood swings and violent or impulsive behavior, and even his family income level.
His father's actions would also come into play, Max said.
"The head injury could be one component of multiple risk factors," Max said. "It could suggest he had a multitude of factors himself, and a genetic risk toward violence."
Nowsch Sr. acknowledged in court in 1996 that he dropped the boy on the garage floor while getting out of his truck, recalled Brent Bryson, the father's defense attorney at the time.
The baby was taken to University Medical Center in Las Vegas and diagnosed with a right parietal skull fracture, severe bruising on his back and a handprint bruise on his left buttock, according to an Oct. 9, 1995, police report.
Nowsch Sr. had separated from the boy's mother by the time he was arrested in May 1996 on a felony child abuse causing substantial bodily injury charge, according to the court record. He pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of misdemeanor child abuse and neglect and was sentenced to three years' probation.
He worked as a flooring installer before killing himself.
The Clark County coroner said the father had cocaine and over-the-counter cold medication in his system and died of carbon monoxide intoxication.
Several doctors said they would need to talk with the defendant and review school and juvenile justice records along with his behavior growing up before linking his injury — or the effect of his father's suicide — to the fatal wounding of Meyers.
"Just having a skull fracture, you can't draw any conclusion from that," said Dr. Dale Carrison, head of the emergency department at University Medical Center in Las Vegas.
Dr. Stephen Reich, a New York lawyer and psychologist, called it crucial to learn if Nowsch at times in his life lost emotional control or acted out, and equally important to consider whether he has the ability to identify right and wrong.
Seattle forensic psychiatrist Dr. Richard Adler, a medical expert who has testified in death penalty trials in at least nine states, said the father's suicide may have had a profound effect on the son.
Meyers, 44, was shot in the head after a series of roadway encounters beginning with an altercation heading home from a late-night driving lesson with her 15-year-old daughter.
The story changed dramatically following the revelation that Meyers fetched her 22-year-old son, Brandon Meyers, and his gun and drove around the neighborhood looking for a motorist who frightened her.
Meyers' husband, Robert Meyers, later said his wife knew Nowsch, at least in passing, and that Nowsch had been to the Meyers family home several times in the past. Meyers didn't respond this week to messages.