GRANGEVILLE Mark H. Lankford is tentatively set for trial next month for the 1983 double murder of an Arizona couple.
But it won’t be in Idaho County, nor will Idaho County Prosecutor Kirk MacGregor be leading the case.
In a Nov. 21 order, District Judge Jay P. Gaskill granted a request by the defendant’s counsel to a change of venue in the case, and to recuse MacGregor as prosecutor.
At this time, a new location for trial and who will prosecute the case has yet to be determined. A jury trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 8; however, this date may change pending appointment of a special prosecutor and whether a motion is made to continue the case.
Charges against Lankford resulted from the 1983 murders of Marine Capt. Robert and Cheryl Bravence at their campsite in the Sheep Creek area outside Grangeville. Mark Lankford and his brother, Bryan S. Lankford, were arrested for the murders, and were convicted at trial the following year and sentenced to death. On appeal, Bryan’s sentence was reduced to life in prison, and he is currently incarcerated in Idaho State Correctional Center in Boise; his next parole hearing is in October 2018.
This will be the third trial for Mark Lankford, 61. His 1984 conviction on two counts of first-degree murder was vacated by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that found error during his trial concerning improper jury instruction on how to handle accomplice testimony. Lankford again went to trial in 2008, and that conviction was vacated by the Idaho Supreme Court in 2016 – a decision upheld in a review earlier this year. In last year’s decision, the court stated Lankford was entitled to a new trial based on the state’s failure to disclose information, and a failure to correct false testimony regarding witness Lane Thomas’ motive for testifying.
In Judge Gaskill’s order recusing MacGregor he stated, “This case is one where a conflict arises that compromises the Idaho County Prosecuting Attorney’s ability to prosecute this case.”
According to court documents, the defense sought to recuse MacGregor because of the risk he would be called as a witness to refute testimony of Bryan Lankford and Thomas; this in regard to consideration each received from the state as incentive to testify in Mark’s 2008 trial. The defense contended there would be risk MacGregor may make improper objections during examination of these witnesses that would violate the advocate-witness rule.
In the 2008 trial, a change of venue was granted due to news coverage of the case perceived as prejudicing the Idaho County jury pool, and proceedings were held in Wallace.
“The circumstances of this case, including news coverage,” stated Gaskill in his order, “have not substantially changed since the last trial was held in 2008.” Due to that same concern raised in 2008, Gaskill granted a venue change in this trial, agreeing with the defense that there is a reasonable likelihood that prejudicial news coverage of this case could prevent a fair trial in violation of the Sixth Amendment.
Mark Lankford is currently incarcerated in the Idaho County jail, pending trial. According to Idaho code, penalties for first-degree murder are death or imprisonment for life. In Lankford’s 2008 trial, he was sentenced to serve two back-to-back life sentences.