BOISE -- A man sentenced to death for the slayings of a young Texas couple camping in the Idaho wilderness must be released or retried because of his lawyer's actions, a federal appeals court ruled yesterday.
Mark Henry Lankford has been on Idaho's death row for more than two decades for the 1983 bludgeoning slayings of Marine Captain Robert Bravence and his wife, Cheryl.
However, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that Lankford received ineffective assistance from his lawyer, and said the state must retry him "within a reasonable time or release him."
The decision probably means a costly and protracted retrial in Idaho County.
The Bravences were reported overdue from an extended camping trip in the summer of 1983. A week later, their van was found abandoned at a Los Angeles bus terminal, and that September hunters discovered their remains hidden at a remote campground.
The couples' skulls were so shattered that they had to be reconstructed by anthropologists, Idaho Deputy Attorney General LaMont Anderson said.
Lankford and his brother, Bryan Lankford, were arrested and each blamed the other for the crime. Prosecutors offered Bryan Lankford life in prison in exchange for his testimony against his older brother.
Bryan Lankford testified that he engaged the campers in conversation while Mark sneaked up on them from behind. Mark Lankford ordered them to the ground, then beat them with a club, his brother said.
Mark Lankford's lawyer, Gregory FitzMaurice, told the jury they could consider Bryan Lankford's testimony even though it was uncorroborated, the appellate court found. That prejudiced the jury against Mark Lankford and effectively denied him his right to effective counsel, the Ninth Circuit found.