Justice Delayed: Twins separated by murder
LAS VEGAS (KSNV News3LV) —
Adriana Morales was just seven years old on Easter Sunday 1994.
"That day, I remember it like it was yesterday," Morales said.
Morales' mother and her two sisters were on their way home from shopping.
Arriving home, a friendly competition.
"We were racing so her whole thing was to get to the house first because she wanted to beat us," Morales said.
That would be the last day Diana Hernandez was seen alive.
"I am the twin sister of Diana," Morales said. "We were the complete opposite. She was a little clown."
The two shared a bond only twins understand. She was just a child when Diana was taken.
"The next morning, we all go out looking. I'm with my babysitter and while we're with my babysitter a homeless man is looking through the trash and he ended up finding the box with my sister in it," Morales said.
A gruesome discovery, but who did it?
Easter Sundays came and went for years.
"It was hell," Morales said. "I think that was the hardest thing for me growing up. Knowing that, oh, my twin sister could have been here, we could have shared this together. How would we look? Would we still look alike? Would we still get along? Would we still do everything together?"
Police work and DNA evidence eventually led detectives to Gregory Wallen. He lived in the family's apartment complex near Maryland Parkway and Flamingo.
Wallen was arrested in 2009, 15 years after Diana's death.
"We're like oh my God, he's arrested. We were happy, ok, we're going to finally put this behind us. Now it's seven years later and we still haven't put it behind us," Morales said.
Gregory Wallen has yet to go trial in connection to Diana's 1994 murder.
Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson wants things to change.
"Too many of these cases are pending in our criminal justice system for six or seven years, awaiting trial. That means someone is sitting in our Clark County Detention Center for years and years and years," Wolfson said.
Sitting in jail costs tax payers $135 a day per inmate and as the years pass, that number adds up.
"I wouldn't term it delay. I would term it taking the time needed to prepare the case," Norman Reed, Wallen's attorney, said.
Reed says he has to take his time because his client's life is on the line and the arrest happened 15 years after the alleged crime.
"We're required to and frankly we just need to whether we're required to or not, go through every little piece of Greg's life and every little piece of everything he's done that could potentially be important to a juror," Reed said.
The Clark County justice system has 242 open murder cases.
One in four of those cases are older than three years and have yet to go to trial.
Wallen's case has seen seven trial dates set and subsequently continued over the seven years he's been in jail. And he's not the only one.
David Frostick, arrested in 2009, charged with killing a girlfriend, twelve trial dates, each one continued. Thomas Randolph, arrested in 2009, charged with killing his wife and a friend, ten trial dates set.
The list goes on.
Reed is adamant his legal team is working as quickly as possible on Wallen's defense but admits some attorneys abuse the system.
"There is a philosophy I believe through some defense lawyers that just delay, delay, delay in itself is a tactic," Reed said.
Meanwhile, victims like Adriana say they're left on an emotional roller coaster preparing for each trial date.
"I have to mentally prepare myself that it's going to go to trial. I have to focus, I need to be strong, I need to be strong, I need to be strong and nothing happens," Morales said.
"I think a reasonable period of time to get most murder cases to trial is two to three years," Wolfson said.
Wolfson is on a Supreme Court committee made up of justices, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges.
Their goal, to change court procedures to streamline the process while keeping it fair for victims and defendants.
"It's a wonderful idea. We have to have something for the public and the viewers and everyone involved," Reed said.
The committee has looked at similar counties like Maricopa, and San Diego comparing trial delays, and confirmed, the issue is a problem.
"We thought if we weren't unusual and everybody did it this way then maybe it isn't wrong. But most other counties get their cases to resolution quicker than we do," Wolfson said.
Wolfson is hoping to enact some new rules within the coming months and hopes the committee as a whole can further address the issue by spring of 2017.
Meanwhile, victims like Adriana are left waiting, longer.
"If you don't have closure how do you put something behind you. If they don't find him guilty you can never put something behind you," Morales said.