ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - Murdering a nun could be so inflammatory to a jury in this heavily Catholic state that the man charged with doing it wouldn't be able to get a fair trial, according to defense attorneys.
That's why lawyers for an accused killer wants to prevent the jury from hearing anything about religion or that the victim was a nun.
But federal prosecutors are now firing back.
Sister Marguerite Bartz, 64, was bludgeoned to death on Halloween night in 2009. She was living alone in her convent home in Navajo, just north of Gallup, when she was beaten with her own flashlight after confronting a burglar.
The FBI named Reehahlio Carroll, who was 18 at the time, as her killer. Investigators said he was looking for money for drugs and booze and that he knew a parish had cash from collections and fundraisers.
But last week, Carroll's defense asked a judge to bar any mention of Bartz being a nun or that the murder took place at a parish.
"As tragic as this case is and as godly as she was, it's just not relevant to the case other than to enflame the passions of the jury," said defense attorney Robert Gorence.
Gorence said Carroll has been locked away in solitary confinement since his arrest for his own safety because of who he is suspected of killing.
"If it's that inflammatory while he's incarcerated, how could it be any less so to a jury?" said Gorence.
On Friday, federal prosecutors responded saying her religion defined who Bartz was. They said leaving that fact out would mislead jurors.
Prosecutors also argued Bartz was targeted because she was a nun and that Carroll admitted he robbed the priest's home at the same parish a month earlier.
Prosecutors said Carroll knew the church complex would be an easy target.
Prosecutors also don't buy the defense's argument that the fact the victim was a nun will taint the jury pool. They said not everyone who went to Catholic school has fond memories of their strict nun teachers and that a lot of people don't sympathize with the Catholic Church because of all the sex-abuse scandals.
The feds said possible prejudice against Carroll because the victim was a nun is an issue that can be handled by questioning during jury selection.
If convicted, Carroll faces life without parole.
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