On Your Side: Sheriff flip-flops again in Virginia City murder case
VIRGINIA CITY, Nev. (News 4 & Fox 11) —
It was April of 2014.
Judy Black, known around Virginia City for her love of horses, was found dead, battered and bloodied at the bottom of the stairs in her home in the Virginia City Highlands.
The case was immediately ruled an accident by Storey County Sheriff Gerald Antinoro. But there was enough suspicion that Antinoro eventually changed his mind. Or at least said that he had.
A year after her death, and after News 4 obtained and aired information from the autopsy reports, Antinoro did an about face, declaring Judy Black's death a homicide after all, without offering any explanation as to why.
Defense attorney Dave Houston says he thinks Antinoro was coerced into that decision.
"I believe there was some political pressure applied," Houston told News 4.
The story quickly became a hot topic in the small town of Virginia City, and in four years that hasn't changed.
"I still get asked about it. At least once a week," said Karen Woodmansee.
Woodmansee is a reporter for the Comstock Chronicle and a longtime Virginia City resident who admits the case has divided this community in some ways.
"Some people think this case is political," she told us. "I don't. It's about the death of a human being, that's what it's about."
The autopsy results showed Judy Black died of multiple blunt force trauma.
Her husband, 78 year old Bret Black, was arrested and charged. He is now awaiting trial.
But what has unfolded since then just might make this one of the most unusual murder cases of its kind.
Court documents obtained by News 4 show Sheriff Antinoro, after first calling the death an accident in 2014, and then a homicide a year later, has flip-flopped again, insisting now that it was an accident and testifying to that under oath at the preliminary hearing.
Dave Houston, who is representing Bret Black, says that might be a first for any kind of criminal case.
"I have never had a situation where the investigating head law enforcement offier has testified for the defendant at a preliminary hearing," Houston said.
Equally unusual, some say, is that Antinoro also testified that he quote "flipped a coin, basically" when he ruled the case a homicide one year after Judy Black's death.
Former Washoe County District Attorney Cal Dunlap, who is now in private practice, says that might be a first too.
"That's bizarre," he said. "I couldn't believe it when I read that testimony."
How all of this will impact the effort to prosecute this case is anyone's guess. In her three plus years as Storey County District Attorney, Anne Langer has yet to agree to an on camera interview with News 4.
But the fact is Langer's key witness, the Storey County Sheriff (who is also the coroner) is now on the opposite side. It is one more bizarre twist in a case that has seen plenty of curious developments already over the past four years.
Many in the small town of Virginia City now wonder how much longer it will take to play out, and whether there ever be justice for Judy.
Reporter Karen Woodmansee is among them.
"I hope people remember Judy Black. A lot of times in murder cases that drag on people forget that there really is a victim."
Sheriff Gerald Antinoro has also declined our most recent requests for an interview on this case. As for what's next, after a recent seven month delay, Bret Black's trial is now set for October in Virginia City.