Judge rejects Mark Lankford’s bid for new trial

Mark Lankford

Convicted killer Mark Lankford’s request for a new trial has been denied.

Nez Perce County 2nd District Court Judge Jay P. Gaskill denied Lankford’s motion for a new trial in an order filed with the Idaho County District Court on Tuesday.

“The evidence presented to the jury supports the finding of guilt in this case,” Gaskill wrote in his order denying Lankford’s request for a new trial.

A request for more time to investigate Lankford’s claim the jury received evidence outside of court was also denied because “not even a scintilla of evidence has been presented on this issue,” Gaskill wrote in his order denying the motions.

Lankford, 63, sought the new trial and an extension of time after a jury in Caldwell found him guilty Sept. 20 of first-degree murder of Cheryl and Robert Bravence. It was the third time a jury had found Lankford guilty of murdering the El Paso, Texas, couple in the Idaho County backcountry in June 1983. He earned new trials after successfully appealing his first two convictions.

Following his third conviction, Lankford sought a new trial by arguing the verdict was contrary to the evidence at trial and the law.

“Due to the isolated nature of where the crime occurred and the fact that many years have passed since the Bravences’ deaths, it is reasonable to say that this case was based substantially on circumstantial evidence,” Gaskill’s order said. “The probative value of the evidence in this case supports the jury verdict.”

Lankford argued the court erred in instructing the jury that the death penalty was not a sentencing option for the judge or jury in the case.

“The jury was not misdirected on this issue as a matter of law,” Gaskill wrote.

Lankford also argued the court erred in allowing prosecutors leave to reexamine Lankford’s brother, Bryan Lankford, about phone calls he made while in prison without disclosing the evidence prior to Lankford’s trial. Lankford argued the nondisclosure “constituted unfair surprise,” violating Lankford’s due process and fair trial rights.

Prosecutors sought to use the phone calls to call into question Bryan Lankford’s testimony, but the trial court denied prosecutors’ request to use the phone calls as evidence of impeachment. Prosecutors also attempted to impeach Lankford’s brother’s testimony by showing Bryan Lankford had planned his testimony for this trial, but that attempt failed.

“The jury was never presented with the proffered telephone conversation evidence,” Gaskill wrote. “Defendant’s argument regarding unfair surprise was addressed appropriately ... and there is no basis for a new trial …”

Gaskill sentenced Lankford to two fixed life sentences without the possibility of parole on Oct. 25. Lankford has been incarcerated for more than 35 years.

Wells may be contacted at (208) 848-2275.

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