Attorneys attempt to revive Boppre murder case
By: MAUNETTE LOEKS, Staff Reporter

Published: Wednesday, February 11, 2009 11:57 PM CST

Defense attorneys in a 20-year-old murder case are now pointing the finger at a Colorado inmate in an attempt to free their client. The defense outlined some of its claims during a hearing in Scotts Bluff County Court Tuesday.

A jury convicted Jeff Boppre, 44, in March 1989 of two counts of first-degree murder in the Sept. 19, 1988, murders of Richard Valdez, 25, and his pregnant girlfriend, Sharon Condon, 19. Over the past two decades, Boppre’s attorneys have tried a handful of strategies to get the conviction overturned.

In March 2005, Boppre and his defense attorneys filed a motion seeking additional forensic testing on items recovered during the investigation in May 2005, saying that DNA evidence would clear Boppre of the murders. A 2005 state law allows defendants to seek additional DNA tests if it could produce evidence that a person was wrongfully convicted of a crime.
Jeff Boppre
Jeff Boppre

Subsequent hearings and filings have lead to the defense’s newest theory — that a cousin of Sharon Condon, John Yellowboy, murdered the couple. Defense attorneys James Mowbray of the Nebraska Commission of Public Advocacy and Lawrence Whelan are seeking a new trial.

Former Scotts Bluff County Attorney Doug Warner, who was among the original prosecutors in the case, has been appointed as special prosecutor in the case. Warner is a deputy attorney with the Nebraska attorney general’s office.

In 2006, defense attorneys had recovered a sample of presumptive blood from an exterior door taken from the trailer where Condon and Valdez were found murdered. The door had been the primary entrance to the trailer, and investigators had taken it as evidence that the murderer had forced the door open.

During Tuesday’s hearing, the actual door was carried in and referred to as evidence. The door, white and weathered, had a two-by-four piece of wood holding it together near the door handle. The wood had been used to repair the door prior to the murders. On that piece of wood, defense attorneys report that an independent lab found a small trace of blood. The blood had been tested for DNA in 2006 but had not matched Valdez, Condon or Boppre.

For two years, Mowbray told the Star-Herald, the defense only knew that testing indicated it belonged to a male. After defense attorneys had a hair found underneath the body of Richard Valdez tested, the mitochondrial DNA testing of the hair resulted in a match to either Condon or Yellowboy, who were maternal cousins.

“That hair pointed us in the direction of John Yellowboy,” Mowbray said, leading the attorneys to seek further testing of the presumptive blood. Yellowboy is serving out a prison sentence in Colorado on charges of sexual assault, robbery and kidnapping.

A comparison of the blood sample and Yellowboy’s DNA sample in a Colorado database of convicted offenders showed seven alleles in common, Mowbray said. The defense contends that the DNA testing is enough evidence to show that Boppre did not commit the murders and to grant their request for a new trial.

Mowbray said the defense believes that the DNA results also means that all evidence in the case can be considered by the court and may even show that the testimony of the state’s two witnesses, Kenard Wasmer and Alan Niemann, was false.

In court filings, defense attorneys have claimed that Yellowboy committed the murders after quarrelling with Valdez on the night of the shooting. The defense claims Yellowboy had been selling drugs for Valdez and had even been jealous because he wanted a relationship with Condon.

The defense has also presented an affidavit from Melissa Moreno, now known as Melissa Archibeque. In the affidavit, Moreno says she was hiding underneath a bed during the shootings and claims she heard Yellowboy at the murder scene. In statements to police taken after the murders, Moreno denied being at the murder scene and recanted statements made to friends that she had been at the home.

The defense used statements by Moreno in a second appeal seeking a new trial, which the Nebraska Supreme Court denied in 1993, saying that even if Moreno’s statements had been true and weren’t recanted, she would not have been in a position to see whether or not Boppre was at the scene or shot the victims.

The state’s position has been that Yellowboy’s DNA at the scene has no significance in the murders of Valdez and Condon, especially in light of trial testimony presented by Yellowboy himself during the original trial. Yellowboy had testified at Boppre’s trial for the prosecution and had been known to be a frequent visitor to the home. Yellowboy had been one of two state witnesses who placed Boppre at the residence on the eve of the murders.

Also, Warner said, the mere presence of DNA doesn’t explain its origination — specifically how it got there or how long the DNA may have been there.

“The finding of DNA doesn’t mean he (John Yellowboy) is a killer in light of the overwhelming testimony of Boppre’s guilt,” Warner said.

A series of motions have been filed as part of the case, including motions for post-conviction relief and motions to remove Warner as an attorney in the case. Scotts Bluff County District Judge Randall Lippstreu, who is presiding over the case, scheduled timelines for attorneys on both sides to submit briefs on the motions and said he plans to rule after briefs are submitted. A final deadline for the reciprocal filing of briefs in the case is not until mid-June.

Since his conviction, Boppre has sought to overturn his conviction three times, saying he was framed in the two murders. Boppre has made three previous bids to have his case reconsidered, filing a motion for a new trial and two motions for post-conviction relief. All three motions were denied and upheld by the Nebraska Supreme Court in 1990, 1993 and 1997. Boppre even filed a petition in 1998, asking the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to review the case. The court dismissed the case.

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