State v. Lankford

Docket Number47522
Decision Date12 July 2023
PartiesSTATE OF IDAHO, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. MARK HENRY LANKFORD, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtIdaho Supreme Court

Appeal from the District Court of the Second Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Idaho County. Jay P. Gaskill, District Judge.

The judgment of the district court is affirmed.

Eric Don Fredericksen, State Appellate Public Defender, Boise, for Appellant. Garth McCarty argued.

Raul R. Labrador, Idaho Attorney General, Boise, for Respondent. L. LaMont Anderson argued.


This is Mark Henry Lankford's third appeal from his convictions for the first-degree murders of Robert and Cheryl Bravence near Grangeville, Idaho, in 1983. Errors in Lankford's first two trials in 1984 and 2008 resulted in those convictions being vacated. Lankford was retried in 2019 and was again convicted of first-degree murder. Lankford now appeals his third conviction, assigning error on the following grounds: (1) that the district court abused its discretion when it allowed the State to question Lankford's brother about statements Lankford made on a late-disclosed prison phone recording; (2) that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction when the "law of the case doctrine" is applied to his case; and (3) that the district court erred in denying Lankford's motion to dismiss for a speedy trial violation. For the reasons stated below, we affirm Lankford's convictions.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

In October 1983, Mark Henry Lankford (hereinafter "Lankford" or "Mark Lankford") and his brother, Bryan Stuart Lankford, were arrested for the murders of Robert and Cheryl Bravence, which occurred at a campground in the woods near Grangeville, Idaho. As we detailed in Mark Lankford I, "The Lankfords were tried separately for the murders of Robert and Cheryl Bravence. Bryan Lankford agreed to be a witness for the State at his brother's trial because he believed the State had offered him an indeterminate life sentence instead of the death penalty in exchange for his testimony." State v. Mark Henry Lankford, 116 Idaho 860, 864, 781 P.2d 197, 201 (1989) (Mark Lankford I). At Mark Lankford's first trial, Bryan Lankford[1] testified to Mark Lankford's involvement in the murders. We summarized Bryan Lankford's testimony in Mark Lankford I as follows:

Bryan testified as follows: After reaching the Idaho County forest where they hid out, Mark and Bryan decided to steal an automobile from a campsite in the area. They reasoned that because the monthly payments on Mark's car [a 1982 Chevrolet Camaro] were delinquent, the police would be searching for it and so they needed to abandon it to avoid capture. They left the car in the woods covered with brush and set off to steal another car. They walked down a mountain road which eventually led to a campsite occupied by Robert Bravence and his wife Cheryl. Bryan entered the campsite first, with a shotgun draped over his arms, and engaged the Bravences in conversation. Shortly thereafter Mrs. Bravence left the campsite to go down to a nearby stream for some water. After Mrs. Bravence left, Mark Lankford ran out from behind some bushes where he had been hiding, and into the campsite and ordered Robert Bravence to kneel on the ground in front of him. Mark Lankford then hit Robert Bravence in the back of the head with a brown wooden night stick. When Cheryl Bravence returned to the campsite she rushed to the side of her husband who was lying on the ground. Mark Lankford ordered her to kneel down on the ground next to the body of her husband and struck her in the back of the neck with the same nightstick. The Lankfords placed the Bravences' bodies into the Bravence van and drove back to their former campsite where Mark hid the bodies near his Camaro. The Lankfords then drove the Bravence van to Oregon and later to California where they abandoned it in Los Angeles. During their travels they purchased food and accommodations with the Bravences' credit card.

Mark Lankford I, 116 Idaho at 864, 781 P.2d at 201. At the conclusion of his separate trial, the jury found Mark Lankford guilty of two counts of first-degree murder for the killings of Robert and Cheryl Bravence. He was later sentenced to death. Mark Lankford initially appealed to this Court in 1989, where we affirmed his judgment of conviction and his sentence of death. Mark Lankford I, 116 Idaho at 878, 781 P.2d at 215.

In April 1992, "Lankford filed another petition for post-conviction relief under I.C. § 19- 2719, seeking a new trial or resentencing." Mark Lankford v. State, 127 Idaho 100, 897 P.2d 991 (1995) (hereinafter "Mark Lankford II"). This Court denied his appeal after determining that "Lankford . . . failed to assert any claim not barred by I.C. § 19-2719." Mark Lankford II, 127 Idaho at 102, 897 P.2d at 993.

Lankford's post-conviction proceedings continued through the federal courts. "Mark [Lankford] pursued his state appeals, post-conviction relief, and state habeas relief, then (after several false starts) he filed a federal habeas petition." Mark Lankford v. Arave, 468 F.3d 578, 582 (9th Cir. 2006). In his federal habeas petition, the United States District Court for the District of Idaho determined an erroneous jury instruction had been given and found that his trial counsel had been ineffective, but "the court ultimately denied the petition, finding there was no prejudice." Id. at 583. However, on appeal to the Ninth Circuit, it reversed the district court, concluding there was prejudice:

Bryan's testimony about the murder weapon, the number of blows, and the force of those blows was vague, contradictory, and when considered in light of the Bravences' fragmented skulls not persuasive. It is this precise scenario an accomplice who must implicate the defendant in order to hide his own culpability that Idaho's corroboration requirement addresses. We agree with the district court that FitzMaurice's requested jury instructions were simply wrong under Idaho law. The corrupted instruction was not corrected by other instructions. Although the question is close, we disagree with the district court as to the prejudicial effect of the error. There was ample evidence that either one or both of the Lankfords killed the Bravences, but there was no evidence that Mark attacked and killed the Bravences other than Bryan's testimony, and there was strong evidence raised at the habeas proceedings suggesting that Bryan's testimony is inconsistent with the forensic evidence. Counsel's request that the jury be instructed that it could convict on the basis of Bryan's testimony alone was plainly prejudicial.

Id. at 591 (emphasis added). Accordingly, the judgment of the federal district court was reversed, and the case was remanded "with instructions to grant the petition for a writ of habeas corpus, with appropriate instructions to retry Mark Lankford within a reasonable time or release him." Id. at 592.

"A new trial was held in 2008, and on February 13, 2008, a jury again found Lankford guilty of both murders. Lankford then filed a motion for a new trial. In July 2008, Lankford was sentenced to two consecutive fixed life sentences, which he timely appealed." State v. Mark Henry Lankford, 162 Idaho 477, 484, 399 P.3d 804, 811 (2017) (3-2 decision) (hereinafter "Mark Lankford III").[2] That appeal was suspended until the motion for a new trial was resolved in district court. Id. In October 2009, the district court denied the motion for a new trial. Later that same month, Lankford filed a second motion for a new trial, which was denied in December 2013. Id. Lankford then appealed the denial of both motions to this Court. Id. This Court released its original decision in July 2016, but subsequently granted the State's petition for rehearing. Id.

On rehearing, this Court concluded "that there is a 'reasonable likelihood' that [a witness's] false testimony about his motive for testifying 'could have affected the judgment of the jury.'" 162 Idaho at 507, 399 P.3d at 834 (emphasis added). This Court further concluded that "[t]he prosecutor's failure to disclose the full details of the agreement 'undermines our confidence in the outcome of the trial,' such that we cannot be sure the defendant 'received a fair trial, understood as a trial resulting in a verdict worthy of confidence.'" Id. (citing Kyles v. Whitley, 514 U.S. 419, 434 (1995)). Ultimately, this Court held "that Lankford's right to a fair trial was violated and that he [was] entitled to a new trial." Id. Accordingly, Lankford's 2008 conviction was vacated, and the case was again remanded to the district court.

In 2019, Lankford was again retried and convicted of the murders of Robert and Cheryl Bravence. This was Lankford's third conviction for the Bravences' murders. He was once again sentenced to two consecutive fixed life sentences without the possibility of parole. Lankford timely appealed. On appeal, Lankford argues: (1) that the district court abused its discretion when it allowed the State to question Lankford's brother about statements Lankford made on a late-disclosed prison phone recording; (2) that the evidence is insufficient to support his conviction when the law of the case doctrine is applied to his case; and (3) that the district court erred in denying Lankford's motion to dismiss for a speedy trial violation. For the reasons stated below, we affirm Lankford's convictions.

II. Standard of Review

"Whether evidence is relevant is a question of law and is subject to de novo review." State v. Ochoa, 169 Idaho 903 912, 505 P.3d 689, 698 (2022). However, this Court reviews a trial court's decision whether to admit or exclude evidence under the abuse of discretion standard. State v. Korn, 148 Idaho 413, 416, 224 P.3d 480,...

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