Legislation passed in 2015 makes one of the four men imprisoned 36 years ago for the murder of Reno Police Officer James Hoff eligible for parole.
David Lani was just 16 when Hoff was stabbed to death in June 1979 while trying to make an undercover drug buy at Idlewild Park.
He has been serving life without possible parole since entering prison in 1979. But under the provisions of Assembly Bill 267 of the 2015 Legislature, teens under 18 can’t be sentenced to death or to life without possible parole.
And that legislation applies retroactively as long as the inmate has served at least 20 years of his sentence.
James Dold, advocacy director for the Campaign for Fair Sentencing of Youth, testified before the Assembly Judiciary Committee there were 16 Nevada inmates serving life without parole who were convicted and sentenced before turning 18 — including Lani.
Dold and other experts argued even U.S. Supreme Court Anthony Kennedy argued in a 2005 opinion the nation has “gone too far with these extreme sentencing penalties and we need to rein it in a little bit.”
He has since expanded on that line of thought in several more cases.
Dold said Kennedy cited the growing body of behavioral science showing the juvenile brain is significantly different in its processing of emotional control and decision making and much more likely to make impetuous, risky decisions than that person would just a few years later. That scientific evidence, Dold said, shows there are fundamental differences between juvenile and adult brains.
AB267 was approved unanimously both in committee and on the floor of the Assembly and Senate and signed by Gov. Brian Sandoval in May.
Lani has most recently argued he should receive a new sentencing hearing because of a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on juvenile sentencing in Miller v. Alabama — also authored by Kennedy.
The Nevada Supreme Court denied that petition as moot, stating the new law “provides Lani with any relief Miller arguably affords.”
The undercover detective’s body was found the day after his murder in a shallow grave near Verdi west of Reno.
Edward Thomas Wilson and John Olausen, both 19 at the time, were originally sentenced to death. Olausen’s sentence has since been commuted to life without possible parole. Wilson remains the longest serving inmate on Nevada’s death row.
Fred Stites, who was 18 when Hoff was killed, is like Lani, serving life without parole.
Jurors who imposed the sentences reasoned Stites and Lani were less culpable than the other two because they fled the scene after the stabbing, showed remorse when arrested and pleaded guilty.
Even if Lani, now 52, were to win parole on the murder charge, he wouldn’t be eligible for immediate release. He still would face sentences on four other counts: robbery, use of a deadly weapon, escape and assault with a deadly weapon. Those counts, together, carry a maximum of 41 additional years in prison.