For Immediate Release
Media Contact: Bob Cooper
Date: June 29, 2007
Idaho Asks U.S. Supreme Court to Set Aside New Trial Order for Mark Lankford
(Boise) – The State of Idaho has asked the United States Supreme Court to overturn a ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ordering the release or retrial of convicted murderer Mark Lankford, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said today.
“We are asking the Supreme Court to reverse this decision because it is legally flawed,” Attorney General Wasden said. “Mark Lankford was charged with felony murder. Under Idaho law, participation in a robbery in which a person is murdered constitutes felony murder. The state’s evidence corroborated Bryan Lankford’s testimony that Mark Lankford participated in a robbery in which a murder was committed. Contrary to the conclusions of the Ninth Circuit, Idaho law does not require proof that Mark Lankford himself did the killing, only that he participated in a robbery in which a murder occurred.”
Lankford and his brother, Bryan, were convicted of first-degree murder in 1984. Their victims, Marine Captain Robert Bravence and his wife Cheryl Bravence, were camping in the mountains near Grangeville. The Lankford brothers decided to steal the Bravence’s van. During the robbery, the Bravence’s were beaten to death.
Bryan Lankford gave different accounts of the murders. At Mark’s trial, Bryan testified that Mark hit the Bravence’s in the back of the neck with a nightstick or small club. Mark never testified but maintained, in statements to the police and his attorney, that Bryan had confessed to the murders and asked Mark to help him hide the bodies.
Following separate trials, both Mark and Bryan were found guilty. After the trials, but before sentencing, Bryan recanted his testimony, stating that he had killed the Bravences with a rock. Later, Bryan testified his confession was a lie that Mark directed him to make so “he would get out, therefore, they would have to let me out.”
Both of the Lankford brothers were sentenced to death. Following appeals, Bryan’s sentence was reduced to life in prison.
The Idaho Supreme Court affirmed Mark Lankford’s conviction and death sentence in 1989. U.S. District Judge William Fremming Nielson denied his appeal before the United States District Court in 2003.
On November 7, 2006, more than 22 years after Mark Lankford’s conviction, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Judge Nielson’s decision and ordered the state to give Lankford a new trial or release him. The Ninth Circuit concluded there was “a reasonable probability” he would have been acquitted if his defense attorney had not submitted an improper jury instruction. The instruction related to the legal requirements for corroboration of the testimony of Mark Lankford’s accomplice, Bryan Lankford.
“We are asking the Supreme Court to accept this case and reverse the Ninth Circuit’s action in the interests of justice for the Bravences, for their survivors and for the citizens of Idaho County,” Attorney General Wasden said. “The state’s evidence met the requirements of the law in Lankford’s trial. Under these circumstances, it is fundamentally unfair to require a new and costly trial 23 years later.”
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