Man imprisoned for 21 years cleared by Nevada pardon board

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The Nevada Board of Pardons has voted to clear a man who spent more than two decades in prison for a murder he did not commit.

Gov. Brian Sandoval and all seven state Supreme Court justices voted to issue an unconditional pardon to 54-year-old Fred Steese on Wednesday. Republican Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who is running for governor, cast the sole no vote.

Laxalt said he relied on a letter from the Clark County District Attorney's office opposing the pardon, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported. "The district attorney, Steve Wolfson, felt that this pardon was absolutely unwarranted,'' he said.

Steese was convicted of the 1992 killing of a Las Vegas performer, but he always maintained his innocence. A judge declared him factually innocent in 2012, but the district attorney refiled charges.

In order to get out of prison, he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder using a rarely used legal maneuver that allowed him to maintain his innocence.

"I'm a new man now,'' Steese told the newspaper in a phone interview on Friday. "It's lifted a black cloud over me.''

Steese was convicted in 1995 for the death of 56-year-old Gerard Soules, who ran a dog show at Circus Circus. Soules' throat was slashed, and his naked body was found at Silver Nugget Camperland in North Las Vegas.

The prosecutors were Bill Kephart and Doug Herndon, who both are now district judges.

Steese's lawyers said that he was in Idaho at the time of the slaying. Lisa Rasmussen, his attorney since 2013, 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.

"I'm just so pleased with the results,'' Rasmussen said Friday. "I'm so proud of Fred. He has struggled so much, but he's kind of a testament to the resiliency of the human spirit. I hope this makes it a lot easier for him.''

Steese is now a long-haul truck driver.

An unconditional pardon removes all disabilities resulting from a conviction and can restore the right to bear arms, according to the Pardon Board. But it does not erase the conviction.