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Eye On Boise

Idaho Supreme Court orders new trial for Mark Lankford in 33-year-old murder case

The Idaho Supreme Court has ordered a new trial for Mark Lankford in a 33-year-old murder case, ruling that prosecutors violated Lankford’s right to a fair trial.  “As this court has noted many times, the right to a fair trial before an impartial jury is fundamental to both the U.S. Constitution and the Idaho Constitution,” the justices wrote in their 38-page ruling. Lankford and his brother, Bryan, were convicted of the 1983 beating deaths of 27-year-old U.S. Marine Capt. Robert Bravence and his 25-year-old wife, Cheryl Bravence; each brother blamed the other for the crime. The court held that prosecutors didn’t disclose to jurors that a key witness, a cellmate of Mark Lankford, had received prosecutorial help to stay out of prison. “Such evidence would have demonstrated motive to provide testimony aiding the prosecution well beyond that of Thomas's claimed motive of 'just being honest,'” the justices wrote. Here’s a full report from AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi:

Idaho high court: Man entitled to new trial in murder case 
By KIMBERLEE KRUESI, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Supreme Court ruled Monday that one of two brothers convicted of killing a Texas couple more than 30 years ago is entitled to a new trial because prosecutors violated his constitutional rights to a fair trial.

In the opinion, the high court said prosecutors failed to correct false testimony during Mark Lankford's second trial and did not disclose that they had made additional promises in connection with a key state witness, Lane Thomas.

Thomas shared a unit with Lankford in the Latah County Jail.

"As this court has noted many times, the right to a fair trial before an impartial jury is fundamental to both the U.S. Constitution and the Idaho Constitution," the justices wrote in their 38-page ruling.

Mark Lankford and his younger brother, Bryan Lankford, were convicted of the 1983 beating deaths of 27-year-old U.S. Marine Capt. Robert Bravence and his 25-year-old wife, Cheryl Bravence, of El Paso, Texas.

Authorities said the brothers hid the bodies of the couple in the Idaho wilderness after clubbing them to death and took their vehicle, money and credit cards on a trip to California.

The bodies were discovered three months later, and the brothers were apprehended when they returned to their home state of Texas. Each brother has blamed the other for the crime.

The justices noted that prosecutors had only told jurors that Thomas would receive a letter to correctional authorities in the hopes of keeping him out of prison when instead prosecutors had actually met with the Latah County authorities and urged them to put him on probation.

"Such evidence would have demonstrated motive to provide testimony aiding the prosecution well beyond that of Thomas's claimed motive of 'just being honest,'" the justices wrote.

Only Justice Roger Burdick dissented, saying he believed details about Thomas' agreement had been appropriately disclosed.

Mark Lankford, who spent more than two decades on death row, was granted a new trial in 2007 after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled he must be retried or released because of a jury instruction error from the 1984 trial.

In the new trial in 2008, an Idaho County jury convicted Mark Lankford of two counts of first-degree murder, and he was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences without possibility of parole.

His brother, Bryan, is scheduled to be released from Idaho's Maximum Security Institution in Boise in 2018.

Attorney General Lawrence Wasden's office and the State Appellate Public Defender's Office both declined to comment, saying the case is still active.




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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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