By Perly Viamensky
This election circle is extremely important for all of us in Clark County because almost every one of our judges are running for re- election and numerous attorneys, many of them totally unknown to us, are hoping to grab a seat on the bench, so it is important to check the background of all of them to make an intelligent decision, but I have been so busy with concerns about the coronavirus that I have neglected to read my emails.
Finally, I realized that I might have something someone important sent to me and opened my page. To my big surprise I had not one or two emails from a source without a name, but three from an anonymous sender saying that District Court Judge Douglas Herndon is not suitable for a position as a Supreme Court Justice.
The person or persons mentioned an old case from 1995, when Mr. Herndon and another assistant district attorney, prosecuted a Fred Steese, for the brutal murder of a circus performer.
Whoever sent the emails failed to mention that the other deputy district attorney was no other than William (Bill) Kephart, who is also running for his re-election as District Court Judge.
The sender or senders of the emails apparently had a strong desire to hurt the reputation and integrity of Mr. Doug Herndon emphasising that exculpatory evidence found in the prosecution’s files showed Steese had been several states away when the murder happened.
Apparently, in 2012, after some 20 years in prison, the man was exonerated and a judge declared him innocent. I believe that if someone needs to say something against another person he or she should have the dignity to identify him- or herself, instead of hiding behind a computer.
William (Bill) Kephart is well known for his prosecutorial misconduct, as well as other deputy district attorneys and nobody dares to say anything against him and he continues being re-elected to the bench.
If we are going to talk about prosecutorial misconduct, we cannot forget the witch hunt in the case of Kirstin Blaise Lobato when the lead prosecutors, William (Bill) Kephart and Sandra DiGiacomo, each maintained a hard line about her guilt in the murder and mutilation of a homeless man back in July 2001. The now retired District Judge Valerie Vega sentenced the 18-year-old girl to 40 to 100 years in state prison, knowing that the girl was 160 miles away from Las Vegas when the man was murdered.
During one appeal after the other, Judge Vega denied Kirstin the right to a DNA test. During the passing of the years and one trial after the other, Kephart became a district court judge and DiGiacomo, one of the two original prosecutors on the case, was leading the charge.
Approximately two years ago, Kephart told a local TV reporter that he had “no qualms” about how the case had been handled. He said it was “completely justice done.”
For speaking out on the Kirstin Lobato pending case, Kephart was publicly reprimanded by the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline.
Still, up to this moment nobody is speaking up about his misconduct. Kirstin Blaise Lobato was finally exonerated after 16 years in a Nevada prison.
And Cathy Woods, the longest-serving wrongfully convicted woman in the United States history, after spending 35 years behind bars for the 1976 murder of a Reno, Nevada college student, was finally exonerated.
In that case of prosecutorial misconduct, Cathy Woods was arrested in Shreveport, Louisiana. According to official reports, DNA evidence from a crime-scene cigarette butt was linked to an Oregon inmate. The woman lost 35 years of her life. The woman sued the State of Nevada and won.
If we were going to speak of prosecutorial misconduct, one would have to visit almost every city in the State of Nevada before pointing the finger at one particular person. From Clark County, to Nye County, to Esmeralda County, to Lincoln County and counting, every prosecutor is guilty of misconduct.
If there is any doubt, we only need to ask Roberto Miranda, who sat on death row for years for a crime he did not commit. In 1996, the district attorney decided not to retry the case; the case was dismissed and Miranda was released. He also later sued the County of Clark, two homicide detectives and the public defender’s office for inefficiency of counsel and received a $5 million settlement.
We could spend days mentioning all cases of wrongful convictions because of misconduct of prosecutors. If anybody is going to point the finger against someone, please be civil enough to tell your name and speak as a man or woman to that effect.
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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 pviasmensky@lasvegas tribune.com.