Lankford’s record won’t come up at new trial

Mark Lankford

Mark Lankford, who has been convicted of murder twice, won’t face references to his previous sentences, past criminal allegations or his three decades of incarceration during his coming trial.

Nez Perce County 2nd District Court Judge Jay Gaskill ruled on several motions Tuesday to determine what will, and what won’t, be introduced to jurors at the September trial in Canyon County.

Lankford was originally convicted in 1984 of brutally beating to death U.S. Marine Capt. Robert Bravence and his wife, Cheryl, and dumping the couple’s bodies in the Idaho County backcountry. Lankford won an appeal, was retried and convicted, only to win a second appeal several years later. The Idaho Supreme Court overturned his 2008 conviction after it was learned Idaho County Prosecutor Kirk MacGregor failed to inform defense attorneys the full details of a deal he made with an incarcerated witness in exchange for testifying against Lankford.

The current prosecution — appointed after Gaskill recused MacGregor because he could be called as a witness — does not intend to call the jailed witness that MacGregor made the deal with.

Canyon County Prosecutor Justin Paskett has been trying the case and raised no objections to excluding references to Lankford being incarcerated, or sentenced, or convicted in previous cases while the trial is in session. Introducing prior sentences, such as bringing up that Lankford was up for the death penalty before winning his first appeal, was deemed prejudicial and could color juror opinions and lead to bias against Lankford.

Paskett wanted to add some context to testimony from witnesses that Lankford spoke to while incarcerated, such as a statement he made to an officer while being taken to Boise for incarceration. Lankford’s attorney, Sean Walsh, said any reference to Lankford being jailed could introduce bias to the jury.

Gaskill said he will likely reserve ruling until the trial begins and take up issues as they come and excuse jurors before discussing.

Gaskill ruled against the prosecution’s request to depose Lankford’s brother, Bryan, who was also previously convicted of participating in the 1983 killings. Paskett said he wanted to question Bryan Lankford ahead of the trial and record it in a sworn statement. The testimony would not be introduced at the jury trial, and Mark Lankford wanted to be present at the deposition. Bryan Lankford’s attorney, Rick Cuddihy, said he wasn’t able to reach his client but objected to the deposition and said Bryan Lankford’s previous participation as a witness in trials was enough. Bryan Lankford was denied parole in October 2018 and has another parole hearing on his life sentence in October 2023.

Gaskill said questioning Bryan Lankford, and not knowing what he might say to implicate himself or his brother in the killings, would cause more issues than it would resolve.

“I can’t see ordering that deposition would serve any purpose if Mr. Bryan Lankford doesn’t want to talk to anybody,” Gaskill said. “And even if it was agreed the testimony wouldn’t be used later, I see a potential legal and ethical morass opened up there.”

Paskett also wanted to introduce evidence to “impeach” Mark Lankford should he take the stand at his trial and potentially call question to Lankford’s testimony. Paskett said this could include criminal convictions prior to the killings that speak to Lankford’s disregard for the law. Gaskill said he will not allow the state to bring up that information in its initial arguments but will reserve ruling outside of the jury’s presence if Lankford is called to the stand during the defense’s arguments.

Other motions were ruled on with little discussion like excluding hearsay statements and allowing Lankford to wear civilian clothes at trial.

The trial is scheduled to last three weeks beginning Sept. 3.

Holm may be contacted at (208) 848-2275 or tholm@lmtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomHolm4.

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