On Your Side: Storey Co. death case goes from accident to homicide

Reno, Nev. ( & KRNV)

Karen Woodmansee is the publisher, reporter and photographer for the Virginia City News. It's a weekly paper where the front page story this week is a feature about a couple of local actors.

"That's the kind of story I normally do," she told us.

But lately another story has been grabbing the headlines. The mysterious death of Judy Black in the Virginia City Highlands in April of 2014.

"I think there are a lot of people who care about it," Woodmansee adds.

For more than a year the Storey County Sheriff insisted Black's death was simply due to an accidental fall down the stairs in her home and nothing more.

The sheriff sent out a press release and then told News 4 in May of last year there were no unanswered questions in his mind.

"It's been thoroughly examined, thoroughly investigated," Sheriff Antinoro told us at the time.

But the case is far from over, actually.

An autopsy report obtained by News 4 showed Judy Black suffered dozens of injuries including trauma to both temples and eight broken ribs.

Then last month, 14 months after she died, the case was suddenly re-classified as a criminal homicide.

Why the change ? No one is saying.

And despite growing public interest in the case, Sheriff Gerald Antinoro offered no explanation when we showed up at his office to ask how Judy's death went from an accident to a homicide more than a year after the fact.

"It's an ongoing investigation," Antinoro said. "That's all I will say."

The Storey County District Attorney Ann Langer told News 4 off camera that her office and the sheriff's office are both investigating the case .

And Langer says if a judge approves, the next step will be to exhume Judy Black's body from the grave as part of that investigation.

No suspects have been named in the criminal case, but our On Your Side investigation has uncovered a civil lawsuit filed against Judy Black's husband Brett. The suit was filed by Judy's sister, Julia and claims Brett Black and his son conspired to murder Judy to get their hands on her money. Money which is currently held in her estate and trust.

Sources close to the family tell News 4 Judy was worth millions. In fact, her family tells us she was part of a team that helped develop the first "card readers." Card readers were the precursors of the modern ATM systems we all use today.

"She was very intelligent," said Karen Woodmansee who has researched the life of Judy Black. She was a very accomplished woman and she was very successful."

Reno attorney Dave Houston is representing Brett Black. Houston says there is nothing to support any of the allegations in the lawsuit.

"We have a faction of people that are insistent in claiming something suspect has gone on here. No proof for it. Just allegations. That's frustrating to deal with," Houston said.

But a case that has baffled many from the get-go is growing more puzzling by the day. It's a classic "who dunnit" in small town Virginia City.

And that's just not something anyone around here is used to.

local journalist Woodmansee put it this way:

"When we've had homicides in the past usually we had a witness or it was an open and shut case. This one is not."