LAS VEGAS (FOX5) -- A Las Vegas man has been granted a "certificate of innocence" and court approval for an award of $1,350,000 as compensation from the state after spending 18 years in prison after a wrongful conviction.
In 1992, Fred Steese was arrested for the murder of his friend, Las Vegas performer Gerard Soules. Nearly three years later, despite extensive evidence placing him in a different state at the time of the murder, Steese was convicted by the state of Nevada for murder, robbery, burglary, and grand auto larceny.
The Nevada Attorney General's Office announced the certificate and compensation on Monday. Eighth Judicial District Court Judge Jasmine Lilly-Spells presided over the hearing.
"While no amount of money can ever replace our freedom, Mr. Steese will be compensated for the years he has lost," said Attorney General Aaron Ford.
In 2012, following extensive evidentiary hearings, the Eighth Judicial District Court granted Steese’s post-conviction petition for writ of habeas corpus, finding that Steese was actually innocent. The state agreed to permit Steese to enter a plea to reduced charges of second-degree murder. Steese was released on a time-served sentence on Feb. 28, 2013.
Steese's total time incarcerated was more than 20 years, including time spent in jail before prison.
In 2017, Steese received a full, unconditional pardon from the Nevada Board of Pardons Commissioners based on his actual innocence.
In 2019, the Nevada Legislature adopted Assembly Bill 267 to compensate persons who have been wrongfully incarcerated if they can prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that they did not commit the crime for which they were convicted, were not an accomplice, and did not otherwise cause their own conviction. Additional costs, including reasonable attorney fees, educational expenses, counseling services and certain other reimbursements are also permitted.
Steese is the fourth person in Nevada to receive a certificate of innocence under this new statute.
Steese told FOX5 he doesn’t hold animosity for everything that happened.
"I'm never mad. I'm not going to be upset about this whole situation because I already lost twenty years of it. I'm not going to waste any more of my time. I'm living my life how I want to live it and I'm going to try and have as much fun as I can," said Steese.
Steese however did have words for those who prosecuted him.
"They were corrupt as hell. That's the only way I can call it. They just wanted a conviction. They didn't care about who was guilty or innocent," said Steese.
Steese said he’s going to continue working as a handyman, and he plans to do some deep-sea fishing while helping those less fortunate than him. He said he is also grateful to those who believed him and help set him free.
"I'm just glad I got somebody to listen before I died in prison. Maybe I'll get another 20-30 years out here. And enjoy my life. That's what life's about," he said. "They had it wrong and they made it right. That's all I can ask."
Steese also said he wants to use his voice to pressure authorities to reopen the murder case, saying the killer or killers are still out there.
FOX5 requested a comment from Nevada Supreme Court Justice Douglas Herndon, who was a prosecutor in Steese's case. Herndon did not immediately reply to the request.