Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Kafka in Vegas

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The blurb:

Fred Steese served more than 20 years in prison for the murder of a Vegas showman even though evidence in the prosecution’s files proved he didn’t do it. But when the truth came to light, he was offered a confounding deal known as an Alford plea. If he took it he could go free, but he’d remain a convicted killer.

Megan Rose reports in ProPublica:

FRED STEESE, Inmate No. 45595, often gazed at the 18-wheelers rumbling by the state prison on a desolate stretch of highway outside Las Vegas, yearning to be behind the wheel. Lying in his bunk in Cell Block A, Unit 7, he’d picture himself double-clutching down hills, filling out the logbook, expertly backing up as he made deliveries. Semis had been an obsession since he’d begun hitching rides with truckers between stints with foster families and in group homes. By 16 he’d stolen his first big rig. Now middle-aged, Steese treasured a commercial driver’s license manual, so well-used it was held together by tape.

As a lifer, however, he knew that even this modest ambition was out of reach. In 1992, a once famous trapeze artist who’d moved on to performing with a costumed poodle act on the Strip had been found murdered, stabbed dozens of times in his trailer on the outskirts of Las Vegas. Police found a prime suspect in Steese, a drifter with a record, who for a short time had been the victim’s lover and assistant, and who, after protesting that he was innocent, offered a confession.

But there was evidence Steese had been 670 miles away at the time — and prosecutors in Las Vegas didn’t share it. The prosecutors went on to win seats as state district court judges, where they still sit. Steese went to prison for life with no possibility of parole. That would have remained his fate except that, somehow, in a life with few breaks, Steese finally caught one. Prodded by his original attorney, the federal public defender sent a team burrowing into the prosecution’s files and ultimately dismantled its case.

In October 2012, a judge declared that Steese, after 20 years in prison, was innocent. It was an extraordinary ruling — in fact, unprecedented in that court. But the Clark County district attorney was not willing to free Steese. Prosecutors vowed to put him through lengthy appeals. Even to re-try him. The process would take years. Or, if Steese just wanted to be released, the prosecutors had a tantalizing proposition: he could agree to an Alford plea. In a feat of logical gymnastics, this obscure plea allows defendants to maintain their innocence while at the same time pleading guilty and accepting the status of a convicted felon. And, perhaps most damaging to prisoners like Steese, after decades behind bars, the plea meant giving up the right to sue. It would also allow prosecutors to keep a “win” on the books, admit no wrongdoing, and avoid civil and criminal sanctions for their behavior. In exchange for all this, the prosecution in Las Vegas would let Steese go.

In legal circles, prosecutorial misconduct is viewed by many as a pervasive problem — an “epidemic,” as one prominent federal judge called it in 2013. Jurisdictions large and small are riddled with corrupt practices. Misconduct lies behind more than half of all cases nationwide in which convicted defendants are ultimately exonerated, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. Driven by a win-at-all-costs culture, such misbehavior is especially hard to root out because, many experts say, there’s little incentive to play by the rules. Appellate courts often sweep misconduct aside as harmless. Top prosecutors, burnishing their own careers, rarely punish underlings for it — and indeed they often flourish, going on to become judges reluctant to police their former peers. And the law gives prosecutors broad immunity from civil lawsuits, even when their bad behavior lands the wrong people in prison.

Fred Steese’s case exposed the rot in the system that robbed him of two decades of his life. Yet even then prosecutors worked to keep it hidden, forcing him into an almost incomprehensible choice: Risk freedom to fight for an uncertain exoneration that might take years, or cop to a crime he didn’t commit and walk away.

II. Death of a Poodle Master

LUCKY THE CLOWN, a 123-foot-tall blast of frenzied neon, has greeted visitors to the Strip since 1976. With its massive grin and pinwheel lollipop, the marquee beckons gamblers inside the striped big top at the Circus Circus hotel and casino. In 1992, low rollers fed cups of change into slot machines while acrobats swung overhead. A rotating lineup of circus performers did free shows on a small dark stage on the second floor until midnight. Passersby would stop to watch before moving along to the $2.99 dinner buffet. Among the performers was a faded but still handsome dog trainer with the bearing of a dancer, often dressed elaborately in sequined tails and matching bow tie. Gerard Soules, known as Jerry, was circus royalty of sorts, a trapeze artist who had traveled the world, performing for the queen of England and dazzling the crowd in the Ringling Bros. center ring. A preening showman, he had worn a cape that he would fling open before beginning the 40-foot climb to the pedestal. From there he’d launch his daring signature move, a somersault forward off the trapeze, catching himself by his heels at the last second on the bar of the same trapeze.

Soules had grown up devoutly Catholic in 1940s blue-collar Michigan. When he came out as gay to his mother as a teenager, his family defied expectations by supporting him. Soules left home at 16 to join the circus. After a trapeze accident in his late 20s, he reinvented himself as the ringmaster of a pack of well-dressed poodles. In 1992, Soules took his act to Circus Circus, where, six days a week, his 14 poodles hopped on their hind legs across the stage: One in a poncho and sombrero to a Mexican march, another to a can-can with her dress attached to her front paws, Moulin Rouge-style, still others wearing three-foot-tall hats or giant hoopskirts — all of the outfits handstitched by Soules himself.

Despite the act’s popularity, Soules had lost his spirit. The casino wouldn’t let him stay at its own RV park with his poodles, so he was banished to the Silver Nugget Camperland, in much less desirable North Las Vegas. And he’d been living in a heartbroken fog since his partner of decades had died, several years earlier. Eager for companionship, the 55-year-old had recently taken to helping young men in need. . .

Continue reading. It is an extremely interesting story.

And also note:

Vegas Judge Had Long History of Prosecutorial Misconduct

The behavior of Bill Kephart, who led the murder prosecution of Fred Steese, was repeatedly lambasted by the Supreme Court of Nevada. But that didn’t stop him from becoming a judge. Read the story.


Written by LeisureGuy

26 May 2017 at 10:24 am

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