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‘Not Nearly Enough’: Innocent Man Awarded $2M After 20 Years In Prison
“No amount of money can ever replace our freedom, but with this decision, Mr. LaPena will receive some redress for the years he has lost,” said Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford.
A Nevada man who was wrongly accused of murdering a casino mogul’s wife in the seventies — and spent two decades in prison for the slaying — was awarded nearly $2 million.
Frank LaPena received a total payout of $1,980,900 after the Nevada Board of Examiners approved the award on Tuesday. He was also granted a Certificate of Innocence by the Eighth Judicial District Court.
“Today, Mr. Lapena's innocence was fully acknowledged by the State, and he is free to enter into a new chapter in his life,” Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford said in the release.
In 1974, LaPena became the principal suspect in the murder and robbery of Hilda Krause, the partner of casino executive Marvin Krause. LaPena and his ex-girlfriend were named as the perpetrators by the actual killer, Gerald Weakland. Weakland, who testified at both LaPena’s first and second trial, changed his testimony multiple times.
Three years later, LaPena was ultimately convicted of Krause's first-degree murder and robbery with use of a weapon in the commission of a crime. The ruling ultimately sparked a prickly tug of war between Nevada’s lower and upper courts that spanned decades.
In 1982, LaPena’s first conviction was overturned by the Nevada Supreme Court. However, his case was retried in 1989. He was ultimately re-convicted the same year.
His conviction was again vacated in 1997 by the Eighth Judicial District Court. The Nevada Supreme Court later overturned the ruling the following year.
In 2003, LaPena’s sentence was eventually commuted by the State of Nevada Board of Pardons Commissioners.
More than a decade and a half later, Weakland’s testimony was finally discounted following a series of evidentiary hearings. DNA testing, as well as evidentiary testimony, ultimately proved Weakland had lied.
LaPena was officially exonerated in 2019 after he was granted a full and unconditional pardon.
Nevada passed legislation in 2019 authorizing the compensation of wrongfully incarcerated people who can prove their innocence. LaPena is the fifth wrongfully convicted individual to receive a Certificate of Innocence under the state’s new laws.
Meanwhile, LaPena’s former lawyer, Oscar Goodman, however, blasted the $2 million settlement as unacceptably low.
“[It’s] not nearly enough for any human being who was innocent who had to spend that kind of time in those kinds of conditions,” Goodman, told Oxygen.com on Thursday. “It certainly wasn’t good enough in his case.”
Goodman, a former mayor of Las Vegas and mafia lawyer, who briefly portrayed himself in Martin Scorsese’s 1995 film, “Casino,” described LaPena as a “very special human being” and a “phenomenal guy.”
“He never stopped fighting—he was one of the most remarkable clients and I had a lot of them,” Goodman said.
LaPena, he said, who at one point was living in Mexico, returned to the U.S. on his own recognizance after learning his case had been again overturned and turned himself in.
The Las Vegas attorney added LaPena is “doing great.”
“He’s reestablished his life,” Goodman said.
LaPena wasn’t immediately available for comment on Thursday.