Nevada Attorney: ‘$1.98M for Wrongful Conviction of Frank LaPena is Overdue’
Posted on: August 12, 2021, 01:53h.
Last updated on: August 12, 2021, 02:04h.
Frank LaPena will receive close to $2 million from the state of Nevada for his wrongful conviction in the 1974 murder and robbery of Hilda Krause. But several attorneys remain dissatisfied with the outcome.
LaPena, 81, a one-time bellhop at the former Hacienda hotel-casino, wrongfully spent 20 years in prison. He was convicted of first-degree murder and robbery in 1977. The victim was the spouse of then Caesars Palace executive Marvin Krause.
Gerald Weakland, who admitted killing Hilda Krause in 1974, had falsely testified that LaPena hired him to commit the murder. In exchange for his testimony, Weakland pled guilty to second-degree murder. He served five years in prison.
During LaPena’s first trial, he was sentenced to life in prison without parole. LaPena’s first conviction was overturned in 1982. During a second trial, he was convicted again, in 1989. But in 1997, the second conviction was overturned. That was later reversed by the state Supreme Court.
Initially, the life sentence was commuted in 2003. A few years later, LaPena was given parole. He received a full pardon in 2019.
Payment Long Overdue
“We are thankful for compensation, but it [is] long overdue,” LaPena’s attorney, Kristina Wildeveld, told Casino.org on Wednesday, a day after she heard the news.
She called it a “tragedy” that Las Vegas deputy district attorney Mel Harmon, who prosecuted LaPena, “knew he was innocent from the beginning, yet persisted in holding him accountable, making him fight for his freedom for almost 40 years.”
I would much rather have my life and 40 years of living over two million dollars,” Wildeveld told Casino.org.
Wildeveld also warns against continual violations of people’s rights by withholding and hiding evidence and the conviction of innocent defendants.
Flawed System of Justice
“No one can compensate Frank LaPena for the 20 years of life stolen from him by a deeply flawed system of justice — an eternity of the moments we all treasure,” National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) President Martin Sabelli told Casino.org.
Instead, Sabelli says it’s essential to focus on the policies and practices that drive repeated wrongful convictions. Sabelli calls for each state to reform any biased investigation processes “including, as in this case, accepting the word of the real killer.”
Let’s start by honestly ensuring post-conviction access to scientific testing and sharing evidence with the accused so that the playing field is even,” Sabelli told Casino.org.
Robert Jarvis, a professor at Nova Southeastern University’s Shepard Broad College of Law, said Nevada, like many states, uses a statutory formula. That pays the wrongly convicted a set amount based on the number of years they served in prison.
“These formulas tend to be very stingy, and Nevada’s is no exception,” he added. Jarvis explained the formula employed in the LaPena case works out to $8.56 an hour, which is below Nevada’s minimum wage.
Because payouts are very low in most states, some exonerees sue the government instead. For instance, two North Carolina brothers who spent 30 years in prison for a murder/rape they did not commit sued in this manner. A federal jury awarded them $75 million, Jarvis said.
The payment to LaPena comes from the state’s exoneree compensation law (ECL). LaPena is the fifth person to receive compensation under the 2019 law.
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