GRANGEVILLE – A District Court judge has denied a motion by Mark Lankford for a new trial concerning his conviction earlier this fall for the 1983 murders of a couple at Grangeville.
Lankford, 63, was found guilty Sept. 20 on two counts of first-degree murder at trial held in Caldwell and sentenced a month later to two fixed life sentences. This marks the third trial for Lankford, 63, whose two prior convictions in this case were overturned on appeal.
“The evidence presented to the jury,” wrote District Judge Jay P. Gaskill, “supports the finding of guilt in this case.”
In a seven-page order filed Nov. 18, Gaskill responded to defense assertions regarding court errors concerning the case that, in its opinion, warranted a new trial.
In its motion, Lankford’s defense counsel asserted the court erred in jury instruction that the death penalty was not an option. Gaskill stated there was no evidence the court misdirected the jury in a matter of law on the issue, and that the jury was informed through the process they were not to concern themselves with the subject of penalty or punishment.
The defense also asserted the court erred in allowing the prosecution to reexamine Mark’s brother, Bryan Lankford – convicted in the 1983 slayings – concerning phone calls made while imprisoned, failing to disclose such evidence prior to trial. This, the defense claimed, “constituted unfair surprise of the defendant’s rights to due process and a fair trial.”
However, the court denied a motion by the prosecution to have the phone calls introduced as evidence of impeachment in the trial. The state also attempted to impeach Bryan by showing he planned his testimony for trial; however, this failed as Bryan responded to questions saying he had not done what the state was suggesting. Gaskill stated the defense’s argument regarding unfair surprise was addressed appropriately during proceedings and there was no basis for a new trial on this claim.
To defense claims the verdict was contrary to law or evidence presented at trial, Gaskill stated the jurors were instructed regarding direct and circumstantial evidence. Due to the location of the crime, and the many years that have passed since the murders, Gaskill said it is reasonable that the case was based substantially on circumstantial evidence. He referred to case law that direct and circumstantial evidence possess the same probative value (the ability of a piece of evidence to make a relevant disputed point more or less true), and “the probative value of the evidence in this case supports the jury verdict.”
The defense lastly contended there was not sufficient evidence to corroborate the testimony of accomplice, Bryan, of which Gaskill stated, “This issue has been extensively litigated in this matter.”
“In this trial,” Gaskill wrote, “Bryan Lankford’s testimony that he was the sole participant of the crime was corroborated by the defendant’s testimony. However, based on the totality of the evidence, there was sufficient evidence to support the jury’s determination that the defendant was involved in the robbery of the Bravences, which resulted in their deaths….”
Charges against Lankford resulted from the June 21, 1983, murders of El Paso couple Marine Capt. Robert and Cheryl Bravence at their campsite near Santiam Creek in the Summit Flat area in Idaho County. Bryan Lankford is currently serving a life sentence for his joint role in the murders.