$1.4 Million for Nevada Man Wrongly Imprisoned Over 20 Years
Steese was convicted in 1995 for the murder of Gerard Soules, a Las Vegas dog trainer and showman at Circus Circus. He was released after it was exposed that the state had evidence that he was in Idaho at the time of the murder but hid it from Steese and his lawyers. Public defenders, however, stumbled across this evidence, and it led to his release in 2013, after being coerced into pleading guilty with time served.
While Steese has been out of prison since then, he had difficulty getting a job as a convicted felon, until Lisa Rasmussen took on his case pro bono. She worked for eight years to get Steese compensated under a Nevada law that allows for monetary compensation for those wrongfully imprisoned. Steese qualified for $75,000 for each year he spent in prison, plus health insurance, a housing stipend, and financial counseling. The state finally agreed to settle for $1.4 million and will pay Rasmussen just $23,000 for all her work.
Steese’s innocence was showcased by ProPublica and Vanity Fair magazine in a story called “Kafka in Vegas,” which chronicles the serial misconduct of the prosecutors who withheld the crucial evidence of his innocence and how Clark County prosecutors continued to fight Steese’s exoneration. A judge eventually issued Steese a certificate of innocence and sealed his records.
In a prepared statement after the hearing, Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford said: “As attorney general, my job is justice, and I’m thrilled that Mr. Steese has been declared an innocent man.” The former prosecutors who withheld the evidence, however, had split ways on Steese’s innocence. Bill Kephart, who became a judge but lost his re-election last year, maintained that he did nothing wrong. Douglas Herndon, though, accepted responsibility for his actions.
“I think that informs me everyday that I do my job currently about the failings that can occur in our justice system,” he said at a 2019 hearing on the new compensation law in 2019. “Errors were made and those were bad. But please believe me, I’m not a horrible person.” Herndon is currently a Nevada Supreme Court justice, alongside Justice Elissa Cadish, who granted Steese his certificate of innocence when she was a district judge.
“This has been a long time coming,” Steese said with Rasmussen by his side after the settlement. “There have been struggles, like anybody else. But, you know, I pulled through it. This is like an ending to the story.”
But it’s not an end to the story. Steese said he has plans for a new home, a new truck, a cruise to Italy, and watching lots of (Vegas) Raiders football. “I’ll probably just do stuff that I like to do, you know, now that I don’t have to worry about my rent or how I’m going to eat,” he said.
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