By Perly Viasmensky
There’s nothing I hate more than to disagree with someone I like a lot, in this case Steve Sanson, the President of Veterans in Politics International, regarding the well-known case of Fred Steese and District Court Judge William (Bill) Kephart.
On his web page Steve Sanson wrote: “We discussed all candidates that would be on the Primary Ballot when we started the discussion on Nevada Supreme Court Seat D, into the broadcast we discussed the candidates Erv Nelson, Ozzie Fumo and Doug Herndon. It was discussed that Doug Herndon was a prosecutor on a 28-year-old case that put an innocent man behind bars for murder. Later after the interview, we were inundated with communications that suggested William Kephart now a Clark County District Court Judge was part of the prosecution makeup. At this point, we contacted all parties involved to do an interview in order to put this allegation to rest. On Saturday, May 16th we did an exclusive interview with Judge Kephart. One on one with Judge William “Bill” Kephart Clark County District Court Department 19 and endorsed by Veterans In Politics International on the Veterans In Politics Video Internet talk-show. After the interview we were inundated with communications that suggested Judge Kephart was extremely sincere and believable. We are convinced that we endorsed the right person for Clark County District Court Department 19.”
The case in question for all the allegations is the case of Fred Steese who spent 20 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. That case is still all over the Internet. Since Steve Sanson said “At this point, we contacted all parties involved in order to put this allegation to rest,” I said to myself, “I cannot miss this interview because all parties involved cannot be present.” Rex Bell is dead, Bill Koot is retired from the District Attorney’s Office, so just Herndon and Kephart are left.
I prepared myself with a Coca-Cola and chocolate cookies and sat in front of the computer. There was Kephart, Sanson and another guy that never said a word. There was no way to put the allegations to rest, there was only the partial story of Kephart and I wasted one hour of my time listening to lots of Aahhh’s from Kephart. He started all his sentences with Aahhh.
The story of Fred Steese and many others like his are well known to old timers of Las Vegas. Besides, the story is still all over the internet.
At the time the Clark County District Attorney was Rex Bell Jr. with his cowboy boots and plug of tobacco in his cheek, and of course his
permanent companion… a glass of hard liquor. Rex Bell was more politician than practicing lawyer; when he ran for DA he promised he
was going to prosecute 12 cases a year, he only tried one case, a traffic ticket in Searchlight and he lost it, so he left the running of the criminal division to his number two, Bill Koot, a gruff former Marine and Vietnam veteran. Deputy DAs who didn’t pursue harsh enough sentences or lost too often at trial were exiled to the age-old prosecutor doghouse: juvenile court.
At the time of the murder of Gerard Soules, the “Poodle King” as he was better known, Fred Steese was not even in Las Vegas. Doug Herndon didn’t come into the picture until a week before the trial as Kephart’s second chair.
In an article dated May 28, 2019, Dana Gentry, a well-known and respected local journalist, clearly explained the character of Judge Doug Herndon. “Clark County District Judge Doug Herndon is uniquely qualified to testify about a bill before state lawmakers designed to compensate people who are wrongfully convicted in Nevada.
Herndon’s daughter participated in researching the measure. But the judge’s qualifications go well beyond that connection. “I was also a prosecutor who was involved in prosecuting a case in which a gentleman was convicted of murder who was later found to be factually innocent,” Herndon testified, choking back tears between words. “And if you think that doesn’t weigh heavily on somebody, you’d be mistaken. I think that informs me every day that I do my job currently about the failings that can occur through our justice system.”
As a prosecutor, Herndon and then-colleague William Kephart, also a judge today, withheld exculpatory evidence from the defense that would have proved the convicted man, Fred Steese, was not in Nevada at the time of the murder.”
Similar prosecutorial misconduct was committed against Kirstin Blaise Lobato. Kephart didn’t even have the dignity to accept publicly that he withheld exculpatory evidence.
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Perly Viasmensky is the General Manager of the Las Vegas Tribune. She writes a weekly column in this newspaper. To contact Perly Viasmensky, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org