Inmate dies |

Inmate dies

Staff reports

A man serving a life sentence in connection with the attempted extortion of a South Lake Tahoe family whose daughter is missing, died Tuesday after a long battle with an undisclosed illness.

Richard Tanksley, 51, was removed from life support at about 10 a.m. Tuesday at Carson-Tahoe Hospital.

“He had a long-standing, very serious illness that took him down,” said Glen Whorton, assistant director of operations for the Nevada Department of Corrections.

Tanksley, who had a history of mental problems as well as a history of what the Supreme Court described as petty crimes, maintained through his 1993 extortion trial that he was trying to obtain money to buy the release of Jaycee Lee Dugard, an 11-year-old who was abducted from Washoan Boulevard on June 10, 1991. Dugard remains missing.

Tanksley also claimed ties to South African President Nelson Mandela and made other outlandish statements.

But a psychiatric panel ruled him sane and he was able to stand trial.

It was during that trial that he set fire to his cell mattress in the Carson City Jail, prompting arson charges.

During the extortion trial, Judge Mike Fondi allowed him to be his own lawyer. He appealed his conviction on grounds he shouldn’t have been allowed to be his own lawyer.

During the arson trial, Fondi appointed three different lawyers to help him, saying he was too disruptive during the first trial and that he needed the assistance. He appealed the arson conviction on grounds he should be allowed to represent himself.

The Supreme Court opinion signed by Justices Miriam Shearing, Cliff Young and Bill Maupin backed Fondi.

“Tanksley talked back to the judge and behaved so disrespectfully and contemptuously that the judge found him in contempt and was forced to tape Tanksley’s mouth shut for the remainder of the hearing,” stated a 1997 Supreme Court opinion upholding his sentence.

The high court also rejected claims of juror misconduct in the case and supported Fondi’s decision to rule Tanksley a habitual criminal, noting that Tanksley was convicted of criminal mischief in 1977, aggravated assault in 1982, and as an ex-felon in possession of a firearm in 1990 — all felonies.