Legislators’ op-ed commends Laxalt
for his commitment to promoting public safety
RENO, Nevada — Five Nevada legislators wrote and released an op-ed today in support of a recent vote by Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt in his role as a member of the Pardons Board. Laxalt, siding with the Clark County District Attorney, voted to deny a pardon to a man who twice pleaded guilty to murder.
Below is the full text of the op-ed.
Nevada Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson
Nevada Senator Pete Goicoechea
Nevada Senator James Settelmeyer
Nevada Assemblyman Jim Wheeler
Nevada Assemblywoman Lisa Krasner
A pardon is an extraordinary remedy and a last line of defense in protecting our citizens. It is up to our leaders to exercise caution and good judgment to decide when there is someone deemed an exemplary individual deserving of one, and when they must deny an applicant in the name of public safety.
Attorney General Adam Laxalt sits on the Pardons Board, where he has more times than not, voted against pardon applicants. He has been steadfast in ensuring that individuals convicted of crimes like domestic violence and drug trafficking do not gain the ability to lawfully purchase firearms, which if allowed would make Nevada less safe.
But since he has declared his candidacy for governor, he has been attacked for not being lenient enough in voting against pardons. Yes, you read that correctly. Attorney General Laxalt’s opponents think he shouldn’t be governor because he is tough on crime and exercises caution in voting to pardon convicted criminals.
In one high-profile case an unconditional pardon was granted – over the objection of prosecutors in the Clark County District Attorney’s Office who knew the case best – for a defendant who twice pleaded guilty to murder. Think of what this means – the defendant who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder was granted an unconditional pardon that could reinstate his civil rights, including his right to bear arms. Attorney General Laxalt sided with Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson and voted no.
The facts of the murder are bone chilling. On June 18, 1992, Mr. Steese waived his Miranda rights and confessed to stabbing his victim to death, describing the murder in detail. According to DA Wolfson’s letter to the Pardons Board, “The 56-year-old male victim was completely nude and lying on the floor halfway out of the bathroom. An enormous amount of blood was around Mr. Soules’ [victim] head. Mr. Soules’ throat had been slashed from one side to the other and there was a large knife wound to the mouth and numerous stab wounds to his head, face, chest, stomach and arms. The bathroom appeared to be the scene of a violent struggle. Two televisions and Mr. Soules’ 1986 Ford truck had been taken.” Horrific.
On March 1, 1995, a jury of his peers found Mr. Steese guilty on all counts, including first-degree murder. In exchange for taking the death penalty off the table, Mr. Steese entered into a plea agreement whereby he stipulated to two consecutive life sentences.
After exhausting direct appeals, Mr. Steese claimed he had new evidence that he was “actually innocent.” When that habeas petition was rejected, the Nevada Supreme Court held that Mr. Steese was entitled to an evidentiary hearing where the district court would evaluate the credibility of his claims. Following the hearing, the Clark County District Court Judge, the Honorable Elissa F. Cadish, made a finding of “actual innocence for the purposes of overcoming procedural default.” In other words, Mr. Steese could proceed with the litigation process. The Clark County DA’s Office stood ready to fight Mr. Steese’s petition on the merits and proceed to trial if necessary, but accepted a plea to a second-degree murder charge instead.
By pleading guilty, Mr. Steese admitted that prosecutors could prove the murder allegations against him. Mr. Steese admitted on the record that his confession was freely and voluntarily entered into and made without coercion. He was assisted by competent counsel and understood the consequences. Judge Cadish – the same judge who previously made a finding of “actual innocence” – accepted the guilty plea in 2013. Mr. Steese was then extradited to Florida to serve another prison term for a prior offense.
Up until that time, Mr. Steese compiled an extensive criminal record, including seven felony convictions from Utah, California, Florida, and Nevada for thefts, burglaries, grand larceny, and armed robbery. His record also included a dozen findings of misconduct in prison, including inciting a riot, theft, and possession of contraband in the very place he was sent to be reformed. After his release, he was convicted of drug use in 2014 and admits to having used methamphetamine in 2015.
For these reasons, the Clark County District Attorney’s Office submitted a letter to each of the Board members objecting to the pardon, calling the request an “absurdity.” Attorney General Laxalt showed prudent judgment by trusting the integrity of career prosecutors who are closest to the facts. If the case for Mr. Steese being “actually innocent” is as open-and-shut as Adam’s political opponents would like us to believe, then why would his own attorneys – and the Court – let him plead guilty in 2013? Why would his prosecutors object?
Attorney General Laxalt has consistently opposed pardoning offenders of domestic violence and drug trafficking. Here, he trusted Mr. Steese’s free and voluntary guilty pleas and voted against a pardon based on the recommendation of local law enforcement and prosecutors.
Do we want a governor who is willing to be attacked for standing on principle and standing up for public safety, or someone who will kowtow to a pro-felon, weak-on-crime agenda? The answer to that question should be obvious.