An Idaho death row inmate with 24 years of solitary confinement under his belt took a significant step toward doing the stuff we all take for granted--think filling up on free samples at Costco, reading a Weekly World News at the checkstand without paying for it and downloading a McRib iron-on for a T-shirt from McDonalds' "McRib Farewell Tour II" Web site, to cite the author's recent experiences--when a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals court granted Mark Lankford an appeal last Wednesday.
Lankford and his brother Brian were convicted in 1984 of murdering a Texas couple in the forest outside of Grangeville in the summer of 1983. With no physical evidence directly linking Mark Lankford to the killings, his conviction was based largely on Brian Lankford's testimony against his brother, which Brian has since recanted. However, according to the new ruling, Mark Lankford's legal counsel, one Gregory FitzMaurice, was deficient in a number of ways that compromised Lankford's trial. Most notably, FitzMaurice instructed the jury that they could convict Lankford based on his brother's testimony, with no other corroborating evidence--which, according to the new ruling, is "obviously against Idaho law."
"It is hard to imagine a case in which such an instructional error could have caused more damage," the judgment read. "We conclude there is a 'reasonable probability' that, with proper instruction on the question of corroboration, the jury would not have convicted Mark of first degree murder."
The next step in Lankford's journey is for the Idaho Attorney General's Office to decide whether it will appeal the ruling, which the office has not yet announced. That appeal notwithstanding, the Ninth Circuit court's order is for the state of Idaho to either give Lankford a new trial "within a reasonable time" or boot him out the front gate.