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Nebraska inmate seeks new trial for 1988 murder conviction

December 21, 2018

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A man convicted of a 1988 double murder in western Nebraska is seeking a new trial based on evidence and sworn testimony from two women that a different man is responsible.

Attorneys for Jeffrey J. Boppre presented the evidence Thursday in a motion in Scotts Bluff County District Court.

Boppre is serving two life sentences for the murders of Richard Valdez and his girlfriend, Sharon Condon, in a Scottsbluff farmhouse. Boppre has maintained for three decades he was framed, but the Nebraska judicial system has upheld his 1989 convictions numerous times.

“When the ‘newly discovered’ evidence is viewed together with older ‘discovered’ evidence, any merit of Boppre’s conviction collapses,” his attorneys wrote in the filing.

Prosecutors say Boppre fatally shot the couple during a night of heavy drug use, then tossed the gun near Gallup, New Mexico. Police said the gun was recovered with help from two acquaintances, Kennard Wasmer and William Niemann, who testified against Boppre.

The new filing includes testimony from one woman that another man, John Yellowboy, admitted to the killings after kidnapping, beating and raping her at the farmhouse where the murders had occurred weeks earlier.

The woman said Yellowboy dragged her into the house by her hair, paced back and forth and blurted out statements like, “Look what I did to her!” and “She thought she could get away with that Mexican (expletive)!” She said Yellowboy threatened to kill her as he had killed Condon and confessed to the murder several more times. Attorneys for Boppre said the woman described details from the farmhouse that weren’t publicly known at the time.

The Associated Press doesn’t generally name sex-assault victims.

Another woman, Melissa Martinez, said she was hiding behind the bed where Condon was shot during the murders and heard a voice she recognized as Yellowboy’s. Martinez said she and Condon had been listening to music and painting their fingernails in the bedroom just before the murders.

Attorneys for Boppre said police knew at the time that Martinez was a potential eyewitness to the murders, but Martinez only told them she had only been at the farmhouse earlier that evening. When investigators for Boppres contacted her in 1990, attorneys said, Martinez was afraid to tell the truth and only gave “a partial retelling” of what had occurred.

Defense attorneys provided testimony from Dr. Todd Grey, a former Utah medical examiner, that they said corroborates Martinez’s story. Grey said Condon died on the bed, but her body was moved off the bed. Martinez said she eventually pushed the mattress off her after the killers left the house, and Condon’s body slumped to its final resting place halfway on the bed and half on a nearby piece of sectional couch.

Yellowboy is in prison in Canon City, Colorado, after being convicted of kidnapping, first-degree sexual assault and robbery. Colorado prison officials have refused to let him speak to reporters.

Prosecutors focused on Boppre as a suspect after seeing what appeared to be the letters “J-F-F - B-O-P-E” scrawled in white grease on the kitchen floor. Prosecutors have said Valdez wrote the letters as a “dying declaration” after he was shot four times.

Boppre’s lawyers argue Valdez couldn’t have written it because he was bleeding to death at the time, had been shot in left arm, and grease was only found on the back side of his right index finger. The grease tube was found underneath his body, with no blood on it, according to Thursday’s court filing.

Boppre’s attorneys also accused his previous lawyer, Lawrence Whelan, of refusing to release his case file. Whelan contends the file is part of the estate of his father, who worked on the case as a private investigator.

Boppre’s Iowa-based attorney, Thomas Frerichs, said the filings were the culmination of a multi-year investigation into the case, and his client “wants to be heard” in court.

A judge has yet to rule on the motion.

Scotts Bluff County Attorney David Eubanks said much of the testimony and evidence Boppre’s attorneys cited isn’t new. Eubanks said he was working with the Nebraska attorney general’s office on the case.

“I can’t find anything here that hasn’t been raised and rejected by the Supreme Court,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the Nebraska attorney general’s office declined to comment.

The push to reopen the case coincides with a documentary series nearing completion that questions whether Boppre is guilty. The series is reminiscent of the popular 2015 Netflix series, “Making a Murderer,” that explored a Wisconsin case.

Boppre has made several bids over the years to have his case reconsidered. All his previous appeals have been denied, and the Nebraska Supreme Court upheld his conviction in 1993, 1997, 2004 and 2010.

In some of those appeals, Boppre said Wasmer and Niemann framed him for the killings and that Wasmer killed Valdez and Condon. In 2010, Boppre suggested that Yellowboy was the killer.

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Follow Grant Schulte on Twitter at https://twitter.com/GrantSchulte

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