I-Team: Man Found Innocent After 20 Years in Prison - 8 News NOW

I-Team: Man Found Innocent After 20 Years in Prison

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Fred Steese Fred Steese

LAS VEGAS -- A man who spent more than 20 years in a Nevada prison for a crime he didn't commit could be on the hook for three more crimes if the state of Florida has its way.

After spending more than two decades behind bars for a murder he said he didn't commit, a Nevada court recently found Fred Steese is actually innocent of the crime.

Instead of freedom, though, Steese remains in lock-up awaiting extradition to Florida. It seems the Sunshine State doesn't credit the time he has already served.

From within the Clark County Detention Center, Steese uses a scratchy video connection to share the story he hoped to forget on the outside.

"Finally, after 20 years, I got found innocent," Steese said.

In 1992, a jury convicted Steese for the murder of Gerard Soules, a Las Vegas Strip entertainer with a poodle act at the Circus Circus.

To avoid the death penalty, Steese agreed to a life sentence without the possibility of parole, believing that on appeal he would prove his innocence.

"I knew from the beginning that I was innocent, so I just kept fighting until somebody listened," he said. "Judge (Elissa) Cadish, she listened and made the right ruling."

Late last year after an evidentiary hearing, Cadish found Steese innocent.

Her ruling was based in large part on new evidence that Steese was out-of-state at the time of the murder.

"Given everything additional that we now know, I am finding that it is more likely than not no reasonable juror would've found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt," said Cadish, who serves in the 8th Judicial District Court.

The decision, however, cleared just one procedural hurdle, meaning Steese had many more in front of him to secure his freedom.

To resolve the case without further litigation, Steese pleaded no contest to second degree murder.

Under the deal, he satisfied his sentence with the 7,545 days in prison he already served.

"He wants to be able to have a second chance," said Ryan Norwood, who represents Steese from the Nevada Federal Public Defender's Office.

"It was a difficult decision, even based on all the considerations we had, because Fred is innocent," Norwood said. "When the plea was entered and when he was sentenced, we told everyone he was innocent. It was just a way to resolve the case so that Fred could live his life."

But Steese yet to breathe air on the outside.

Instead, he remains imprisoned on a hold from Florida for failing to report to his parole officer more than a quarter century ago.

The Florida Parole Commission told the I-Team that although its decision to bring him back is discretionary, it doesn't consider his time in Nevada.

"He was convicted in Florida," said Jane Tillman of the Florida Parole Commission. "He was released and placed in supervision to follow as part of his sentence. He absconded, he never showed up for his supervision and therefore he's being brought back to the state of Florida to serve 1,189 days with the Florida Department of Corrections.

That's another three plus years in a Florida prison.

"He spent almost 21 years in custody for something he didn't do," Norwood said. "Why should he have to go across the country to spend another three years in Florida for something else, something that would've been resolved a long time ago if it weren't for the fact of a wrongful conviction."

Florida has until early April to transport Steese. If it fails to do so, Steese may finally get to go home.

Until then, he speaks through a scratchy connection, hoping that someone will listen.

"I've already done 20 years for something I didn't do and now I got to go to Florida for three years," he said. "C'mon."

The I-Team reached out to Florida Gov. Rick Scott to see if he supported the commission's decision. After all, it will cost Florida taxpayers nearly $50,000 to transport and house Steese.

The governor, however, responded through the parole commission. So far, it insists, it is coming for Steese.

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