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Lapena v. Grigas

United States District Court, D. Nevada

May 12, 2014

GEORGE GRIGAS, et al., Respondents.


PHILIP M. PRO, District Judge.

Introduction, Factual Summary, and Procedural Background

This action is a petition for a writ of habeas corpus by Frank Ralph LaPena, who, in a second trial, in 1989, was convicted of first degree murder and robbery with the use of a deadly weapon, and who is now on parole. Respondents have filed an answer (ECF No. 40), and LaPena has filed a reply to the answer (ECF No. 57). In their answer, respondents contend that several of LaPena's claims are unexhausted in state court. In this order, the court addresses those contentions, and concludes that Grounds 5, 6, and 7 of LaPena's petition are unexhausted. The court orders LaPena to make an election regarding those unexhausted claims.

In its opinion dismissing LaPena's appeal from his 1989 conviction, the Nevada Supreme Court summarized the facts, as disclosed by the evidence at trial, as follows:

Frank LaPena was found guilty of initiating the contract murder of Hilda Krause, 71, at her home on January 14, 1974. Marvin Krause, her husband, was at that time the slot manager for Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. He was knocked senseless. One Gerald Weakland, who had agreed to execute the murder contract, and an associate, escaped with assorted jewelry and a TV set.
Within a few days, a police confidential informant pointed a finger at Gerald Weakland. Eventually a "love" triangle emerged. Marvin Krause was involved with Rosalie Maxwell, a cocktail waitress at Caesar's. Maxwell was also involved with Frank LaPena, whom she described to police as her "true love" while Mr. Krause was her "live one." LaPena, a bell captain at Caesar's, told the police that he knew about the Krause-Maxwell relationship and "he didn't care as long as the money kept coming in."
According to Weakland's testimony, with Hilda Krause out of the way, Rosalie would then be free to marry Marvin Krause. LaPena would be the ultimate financial beneficiary. For his part, Weakland was offered $1, 000 in advance and $10, 000 in the future; in addition, considerable sums that Weakland, an inveterate gambler, owed LaPena, would be forgiven.

Order Dismissing Appeal, Exhibit L, pp. 1-2 (opinion published as LaPena v. State, 107 Nev. 1126, 838 P.2d 947 (1991)).[1] In its 1998 opinion, reversing the state district court's judgment granting LaPena post-conviction relief, the Nevada Supreme Court provided more factual detail, and the procedural background of the case up to that point:

At approximately 5:00 a.m. on January 14, 1974, the elderly couple of Hilda and Marvin Krause were robbed at their Las Vegas home located inside a walled country club community. During the course of the robbery, the perpetrators beat Mr. Krause and murder Mrs. Krause. When police arrived at the Krause home, they found the deceased Mrs. Krause gagged with a scarf tied loosely around her neck, and a butcher knife imbedded in her back; her throat had been slit. An autopsy revealed that Mrs. Krause had been strangled with a cord or rope prior to having her throat slit and that she had sustained several stab wounds to her neck after her throat had been slit.
Mr. Krause told police that he had been attacked by two Caucasian men after he opened his garage door and as he was getting into his car to go to work. The men forced him into the house where they beat him and tied him up, murdered Mrs. Krause, and stole a television, gold coins, and jewelry, including a diamond ring and a watch. Mr. Krause reported that after the assailants left his home, he untied himself and went upstairs in an attempt to aid Mrs. Krause. Physical evidence indicated that at least two perpetrators had been present at the Krause home. The perpetrators left the scene in Mr. Krause's car but abandoned it at the gates of the country club. Mr. Krause suffered a head injury in the attack; he died the following year from unrelated causes.
Several days after the crime had been committed, a confidential informant (later identified as Joey Costanza) contacted Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) Detective Mike Whitney. Costanza told Det. Whitney that approximately six weeks before the Krause robbery/murder, Gerald Weakland had approached him about assisting in a robbery/murder to take place in the early morning hours of a Monday or Friday before one fo the victims went to work and would involve scaling a wall of some sort. Costanza allegedly knew the exact location of the crime scene (i.e., the Krauses' address). Costanza also mentioned two other individuals who might have been solicited or involved in the crime - Tom Boutwell and Bobby Webb.
Det. Whitney gave this information to several police officers, including Lieutenant Beecher Avants and Detective Chuck Lee, who subsequently questioned Boutwell, Webb, and Weakland. In a February 1974 telephone conversation between Lt. Avants and Costanza, Costanza allegedly stated that he had never heard the names of LaPena or Rosalie Maxwell, LaPena's girlfriend, associated with Weakland or the Krause crimes. Police arrested Weadland for the Krause murder/robbery in March 1974.
During a preliminary hearing, Weakland admitted to the crimes and struck a deal with the State wherein he agreed to testify that Maxwell and LaPena had hired him to murder Mrs. Krause. In exchange for this testimony, Weakland was allowed to plead guilty to second degree murder, with a sentence of five years to life, and all other charges against him (some of which were unrelated to the Krause crimes) were dropped. In his March 29, 1974, confession, Weakland told authorities that while Boutwell, his accomplice, was robbing the Krause home, he slipped upstairs and murdered Mrs. Krause by slitting her throat with a single cut. Weakland maintained that he had not strangled Mrs. Krause or stabbed her in the neck. Weakland maintained that LaPena, an acquaintance to whom he owed money, had approached him at the end of December 1973, and asked him to kill Mrs. Krause. LaPena allegedly explained to Weakland that Mr. Krause was a wealthy slot manager at Caesar's Palace who was dating LaPena's girlfriend, Maxwell, who also worked at Caesar's. LaPena and Maxwell wanted Weakland to kill Mrs. Krause so that Maxwell could marry Mr. Krause and inherit the Krause fortune for the benefit of herself and her boyfriend, LaPena.
Weakland claimed that LaPena had offered to forgive his debts and pay him a large sum of money in exchange for Mrs. Krause's murder. On January 4, 1974, Weakland went to Maxwell's apartment where she and LaPena gave him $1000 as a down payment for the murder, told him that he would received another $10, 000 after Maxwell married Mr. Krause, and explained the "plan" for robbing the Krauses and murdering Mrs. Krause. Maxwell allegedly gave Weakland a map of the Krauses' residence during this meeting. Weakland stated that he asked Webb to help him commit the crime but, ultimately, Boutwell accompanied him. Weakland told police that he ahd never spoken to or had any contact with Mr. Krause prior to the January 1974 robbery/murder.
Based upon Weakland's statements to the police, on April 23, 1974, LaPena and Maxwell were arrested for the Krause robbery/murder. Both were charged with first degree murder and robbery with the use of a deadly weapon. The criminal complaint alleged that LaPena and Maxwell had entered into a contract with Gerald Weakland "whereby... Weakland was to kill [Mrs. Krause]."
Weakland testified to LaPena's guilt at LaPena's preliminary hearing; however, at both Maxwell's and LaPena's separate trials, Weakland testified that his prior testimony and statements implicating LaPena and Maxwell in the murder were false. LaPena v. State, 98 Nev. 135, 136, 643 P.2d 244, 244 (1982). Maxwell was acquitted at trial, but LaPena was convicted by a jury of one count of first degree murder and one count of robbery with the use of a deadly weapon.
On direct appeal, this court reversed LaPena's conviction and remanded for a new trial on the ground that admission of Weakland's statements incriminating LaPena constituted reversible error. This court concluded that the State had improperly withheld "the benefits of a plea bargain or promise of leniency until after a purported accomplice [ (i.e., Weakland) ] had testified in a particular manner." Id. at 136-37, 643 P.2d at 244-45. Weakland was eventually charged with two counts of perjury, to which he entered an Alford plea and received probation.
* * *
LaPena's second jury trial commenced in May 1989, and he was again convicted of first degree murder and robbery with the use of a deadly weapon. LaPena did not testify on his own behalf. The trial court sentenced LaPena to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for the murder of Mrs. Krause, and a concurrent thirty-year sentence for the robbery of the Krause home with the use of a deadly weapon. This court [the Nevada Supreme Court] affirmed LaPena's ...

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