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Ex-bellhop’s wrongful conviction case ends with $1.98M state payout

CARSON CITY — The state of Nevada on Tuesday approved a nearly $2 million payment to a onetime Las Vegas casino bellhop who wrongfully served 20 years in prison for murder and robbery.

Frank LaPena, exonerated by the state Pardons Board in 2019, for the 1974 crime, will receive $1.98 million under a 2019 law that provides for compensation to be paid by the state to wrongfully incarcerated people.

A district court judge granted LaPena his certificate of innocence and approved the award on June 30. The state Board of Examiners, consisting of Gov. Steve Sisolak, Attorney General Aaron Ford and Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, gave its unanimous signoff on Tuesday.

“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,” Ford said in a statement.

LaPena’s case followed a tortured route through the state legal system for more than four decades. He was first arrested in 1974 for the murder and robbery of Hilda Krause, wife of casino magnate Marvin Krause, after being implicated in the crime by the actual murderer, Gerald Weakland.

LaPena was convicted in 1977, but the conviction was overturned in 1982. He was retried and reconvicted in 1989. In 1997, that second conviction was overturned as well but reversed the following year by the state Supreme Court.

LaPena’s life sentence was commuted in 2003, and he was paroled in 2005.

Then in 2017, courts determined through DNA testing and other evidence that Weakland had lied about Hilda Krause’s murder. LaPena received a full pardon in November 2019, and in 2020 he sought damages for his imprisonment under a state law adopted by the Legislature in 2019 and amended this year.

LaPena is the fifth person to receive compensation under the law. His payment represents $1.5 million, or $75,000 per year, for the total of 20 years he was incarcerated between 1977 and 2005; $375,000, or $25,000 per year, for the 15 years he spent on parole; and the remainder for health insurance premiums, housing assistance and attorneys’ fees.

Contact Capital Bureau reporter Bill Dentzer at bdentzer@reviewjournal.com. Follow @DentzerNews on Twitter.

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