As of Tuesday, July 26, 2016
This year marks 25 years since the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in dissent about a troubling case in which his colleagues ruled our local court had flubbed the process by which Bryan Lankford was sentenced to death. Earlier this week, the Idaho Supreme Court undid the outcome of the related case against Mark Lankford.
Scalia, in his 1991 dissent from the decision that spared Bryan Lankford’s life, left no room to doubt these two Lankford brothers murdered two South Fork Clearwater River country campers in 1983.
“Evidence at trial,” he wrote, “also established that the camping couple whom the Lankford brothers killed offered no provocation or resistance, that their skulls were brutally smashed while they were kneeling in a position of submission, that they were driven — dead or mortally injured — into a remote area where their bodies were hidden under branches and other debris and remained undiscovered until three months later.”
Even so, the U.S. Supreme Court decided, in a 5-4 split, that our local court had not been fair enough to Bryan Lankford. Scalia, in dissent, wrote ominously that if the case couldn’t hold as it had been tried in our local court “the lawfulness and finality of no conviction or sentence can be assured.”
The case against Mark Lankford exemplifies exactly these problems. Having been convicted here in 1984, he won a new trial on a technicality in 2007. He was convicted here again in 2008, yet the Idaho Supreme Court sided with him on another technicality Monday, July 25 – so the evidence against him will have to be heard a third time.
We’re disgusted. We’re sick of having to write about this guy. More than that, we’re horrified that the state would ask the victims’ families to revisit this so publicly and with such high stakes more than three decades after the murders.
In effect, the courts are asking the people of Idaho County to doubt this man’s guilt despite what we’ve learned through the two previous trials. The courts ask for perhaps more fairness than we can give. Last time the courts asked the people of Idaho County to revisit this case, it cost local taxpayers an amount that to us is a fortune only to have it done in Wallace.
If it must be done – if a new trial must be had, if the evidence against Mark Lankford must be heard yet again – we should presume his innocence, for these reasons: first, to uphold our American ideals and the due process rights the Constitution enshrines; second, in the interest of insisting this trial be held in Grangeville if possible, at the courthouse local to the place where the foul deed was done; and third, because we hope beyond hope to come away from it with a durable conviction, with a lasting finality, and with a sentence that can be assured.