LEWISTON – A federal judge has ruled that a man imprisoned since 1971 for killing a Lewiston police officer must remain in prison.
U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled Friday that the plea agreement accepted by Melvin L. Cox, now 69, specified an indeterminate life sentence.
Cox argued in his appeal that he agreed to a prison term of up to 30 years and should be released.
The judge who sentenced him, the prosecutor and the court reporter have died, and Winmill said there was no evidence to support Cox’s claim.
“Nothing corroborates (Cox’s) allegation that representations to him that a life sentence was a maximum of thirty years were the underlying reason for pleading guilty,” Winmill wrote.
As a result, Winmill ruled, Cox’s constitutional rights were not violated by his continued incarceration.
Cox’s lawyer, Charles Peterson, of Boise, did not return a call on Saturday.
Cox was 31 when he was sent to prison for killing Ralph T. Russell, a seven-year Lewiston police veteran who was shot while interviewing Cox and another man.
“It has been a great stress on our family that the thought that someone who had committed murder was going to be let go with little or no repercussions,” said Teri Russell, Ralph Russell’s daughter.
Russell’s widow, Barbara Russell, of Lewiston, said she was glad Cox would remain behind bars.
“It’s not just a relief for the family members, but also for the other people in the community,” she told the Lewiston Tribune. “He’s never shown any remorse.”
Cox, who was first eligible for parole in 1981, has been denied five times by the Idaho Commission on Pardons and Parole, records show. The parole board has also passed Cox to his full-term release date of life in prison, so he would first have to appeal that decision to be considered for parole again.