Former Nevada inmate awarded $1.35M for wrongful conviction

Published Tuesday, March 2, 2021 | 3:39 p.m.

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A Nevada man who was exonerated after spending more than two decades in prison for a 1992 murder that he didn’t commit has been awarded a $1.35 million settlement and a certificate of innocence from the state.

Fred Steese, now 57, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal outside court on Monday he’s relieved he won’t have to worry about how he’ll pay rent or afford food, and he plans later this week to celebrate three years of sobriety.

He also said he wants to help inmate support programs such as the Innocence Project and Hope for Prisoners and take advantage of a financial literacy program.

“I’m not going to dwell on the 20 years I lost,” Steese said. “I’m going to move forward.”

In the eight years since he was freed, Steese has worked as a truck driver and a handyman but battled addiction.

He credited attorneys Lisa Rasmussen, Kristina Wildeveld and Nancy Lemcke for fighting for his pardon and compensation from the state amounting to $75,000 for each year he was imprisoned.

Steese said that Rasmussen occasionally helped him with money for groceries or a phone bill.

“There have been struggles,” he said. “But, you know, I pulled through it.”

Attorney General Aaron Ford said in a prepared statement that while no amount of money can replace freedom, he was “thrilled that Mr. Steese has been declared an innocent man.”

Steese was convicted in 1995 and sentenced to life in prison for the death of Gerard Soules, a 56-year-old dog show performer at the Circus Circus hotel-casino. Soules’ throat was slashed and his naked body was found in North Las Vegas.

Steese always maintained his innocence, and a judge declared him factually innocent in 2012, but the district attorney refiled charges.

The Nevada Board of Pardons unconditionally cleared Steese in November 2017.

Steese said he doesn’t hold a grudge against the prosecutors in his case — Douglas Herndon, now a Nevada Supreme Court justice, and Bill Kephart, who served eight years as a state court judge in Clark County but lost a bid for reelection last November.

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