Mark Lankford  re-trial begins

Mark Lankford looks on during recent opening statements in his second re-trial at the Canyon County Courthouse. Lankford is accused of the murders of Robert Bravence and his wife, Cheryl, who were killed while camping in rural Idaho County in 1983.

CALDWELL — Bryan Lankford, one of the brothers convicted of killing a young couple camping in Idaho 36 years ago, claimed that he alone was the sole killer.

It’s not the first time he’s made that claim, and he acknowledged at his brother’s trial recently that his testimony over the years has been inconsistent.

Bryan Lankford is serving a life sentence for the killings. His older brother, Mark Lankford, has twice appealed his own conviction and is now on trial a third time. Though the crime took place in the backcountry of Idaho County — and both the Lankfords and the victims were from Texas — the Canyon County Courthouse was chosen as the trial venue so jurors wouldn’t know much about the case.

The Lankfords were convicted in 1984 for the slayings of U.S. Marine Capt. Robert Bravence, 28, and his wife, Cheryl, 25.

Bryan Lankford over the decades has alternated from admitting to being the sole killer, to watching his brother bludgeon the couple, to not being anywhere near the killings, according to the Lewiston Tribune. Evidence suggests the Bravences were killed in a failed robbery.

Both brothers originally were sentenced to death for the crimes, but Bryan Lankford’s sentence was later commuted to life in prison.

Mark Lankford has twice successfully appealed his murder conviction. The latest stems from an Idaho County prosecutor’s failure to fully inform Lankford’s defense about a deal made with an incarcerated witness, according to the Tribune.

At the Canyon County Courthouse on Monday, Bryan Lankford, 58 years old and dressed in orange prison garb, said he killed Robert Bravence first, after Bravence refused to give him a ride. Bryan Lankford said he then killed Cheryl Bravence, too, because he didn’t want any witnesses.

“I believe I was possessed at the time, just a momentary possession,” Bryan Lankford said Monday.

But during his 2008 testimony, he blamed his brother for the murders. He claimed Monday that prosecutors paid him to lie then, and coached him on what to say under oath. He claimed that prosecutors offered him several goods and services, including releasing him from custody.

On Monday, Canyon County Deputy Prosecutor Doug Robertson said he provided Bryan Lankford a large binder full of everything he has said on the record about the murders, and Bryan Lankford said he received it and destroyed it because it came from the prosecution.

“You’re the prosecution,” Bryan Lankford said. “You’re not my friend.”

“No, I’m certainly not,” Robertson replied.

Bryan Lankford on Monday described his version of what happened on the day of the murders. He said he approached Robert Bravence at his campsite and asked for a ride to Golden, Idaho. When Bravence refused, Lankford said he pointed his shotgun toward Bravence’s stomach, which he said made the man angry. When Bravence took a hostile step toward him, Lankford said he hit him on the side of the head with the butt of his shotgun.

Bravence fell to the ground, and Bryan Lankford said he thought he was unconscious. He threw his shotgun down, and saw Bravence trying to get up, so he said he took a large rock by the fire pit and hit Bravence in the head several times.

Cheryl Bravence returned to the campsite shortly after, and Bryan Lankford said she immediately started screaming and fell to her knees beside Robert Bravence. He said he then hit her in the head twice with the same rock.

Bryan Lankford said he threw the rock in the river and tried to clean the blood off himself. He said he cleaned up the campsite, covered the Bravences’ heads with drawstring bags to stop the blood from spreading, and tried to load the bodies into the back of the couple’s van. He said he was only able to load Cheryl Bravence, as Robert Bravence was too heavy. He said he drove away in their van.

Mark Lankford has maintained that he helped dispose of the bodies but did not participate in the murders, his defense attorney said during the trial’s opening day last week.

More people were called to the stand Monday to testify. Mark Lankford would occasionally nod his head, but other than that, he remained expressionless.

Both brothers have been in prison 36 years for the murders. Bryan Lankford has been denied parole several times in the past, with his next parole date set for 2023.

Mark Lankford’s trial is in the start of its second week, and is scheduled to potentially last up to three weeks.