By David Ferrara Las Vegas Review-Journal
March 1, 2021 – 5:51 pm
Fred Steese spent part of Monday morning digging a woman’s wedding ring
out of a bathtub drain. By the early afternoon, he was walking into a Las Vegas courtroom, where a judge approved a roughly $1.4 million settlement for the nearly two decades he spent behind bars for a murder he did not commit.
Standing next to him in the hallway of the Regional Justice Center, as she
has done for years, was attorney Lisa Rasmussen. She successfully fought
for Steese’s pardon and ultimately helped persuade the Nevada Legislature
in 2019 to compensate the wrongfully incarcerated.
From time to time, Rasmussen would help Steese with money for groceries
or a phone bill. She would let him shave in her oce before a job interview.
“She’s my rock,
” Steese said. “She’s been there through everything. Never gave up on me.”
Steese, his lawyer and the Nevada attorney general’s oce recently reached
an agreement for Steese to receive $75,000 for each year he was imprisoned
after his conviction for the death of 56-year-old Gerard Soules, who ran a
dog show at Circus Circus.
“As attorney general, my job is justice, and I’m thrilled that Mr. Steese has
been declared an innocent man,
” Attorney General Aaron Ford said in a
prepared statement after Monday’s hearing. “While no amount of money can ever replace our freedom, Mr. Steese will be compensated for the years
he has lost.”
In total, Steese spent more than 21 years behind bars, but he will not be paid for the time he spent in jail while awaiting trial.
He said he doesn’t hold a grudge against the men who prosecuted him —
Douglas Herndon, who is now a Nevada Supreme Court justice, and Bill
Kephart — even though his lawyers said he was in Idaho at the time of the
slaying. “I’m not going to dwell on the 20 years I lost,
” Steese said. “I’m going to move forward. … I’m just a bundle of energy right now. I’m so happy that I got what I got.”
Lilly-Spells signed o on the settlement, wished Steese well and asked him
to keep her updated on his life. Steese said he wants to help programs such as the Innocence Project and Hope for Prisoners.
He was convicted in March 1995 and freed in February 2013, when he
reached out to Rasmussen.
It was not until November 2017 that the Nevada Board of Pardons cleared
Steese of the wrongful murder conviction.
He fought his conviction while serving a life sentence, and in 2012, thenDistrict Judge Elissa Cadish, now also a justice on the state’s high court,
declared Steese actually innocent.
Rasmussen said Steese’s 1992 confession to police was coerced and beaten
out of him after he had driven three days without sleep to talk to
investigators about a friend who had been killed.
In the eight years since he was freed, Steese has worked as a truck driver and a handyman but struggled to pay the bills and fight addiction. The 57-year-old plans to celebrate three years of sobriety Saturday.
His initial reaction when asked what he would do, as he walked out of
District Judge Jasmin Lilly-Spells’ courtroom: “Go back to work.”
Later, with time to reflect, he spoke of rides across the desert on his new dirt bike, hunting and fishing, watching Raiders football, a new home with a
garage, a new truck and a cruise to Italy. Freedom. And maybe not working
“I’ll tell everybody else what to do now, instead of doing all the work,
” he said. “But yeah, I want to stay busy. I’ll probably just do stu that I like to
do, you know, now that I don’t have to worry about my rent or how I’m
going to eat.”
Under the state’s agreement with Steese, he will be granted a certificate of
innocence, and the judge will order his records sealed. He said he plans to
take advantage of a financial literacy program.
“This has been a long time coming, ” he said, with Rasmussen by his side.
“There have been struggles, like anybody else. But, you know, I pulled
through it. This is like an ending to the story.”