RUPERT — A Paul man serving a life sentence for kidnapping and raping a bar-owner’s wife in 1984 wants a Minidoka County court to let him out of prison, saying he’s done his time.
Melvin Dean Hanks, 74, filed a post-conviction relief proceeding in 2016 with Minidoka County District Court. He was brought to the Mini-Cassia Criminal Justice Center in mid-December so he can attend the court hearings in the case. Now he claims his sentencing judge said he’d get out after 30 years.
A Minidoka County jury convicted Hanks after a five-day trial on charges of first-degree kidnapping, attempted rape, aggravated battery and two counts of a charge called crime against nature for oral and anal rape, court records say.
He was sentenced in October 1984.
Hanks petitioned the court in 1985 for a reduction of his sentence because his life sentence precluded him getting treatment in prison. The request was denied in 1986 by Judge Ronald Bruce, the same judge who sentenced him.
His current request before the court says his sentencing document has a typed note that says the judge said in court that he would serve a fixed-life sentence not to exceed 30 years.
Hanks said he was told the same by his attorney, who said “he’d get out then.”
The sentences on the other charges — 15 years each for rape and aggravated battery and 5 years for each crime against nature — were to run concurrent with the life sentence.
Hanks said in hand-written court documents that the Idaho Department of Correction interprets a fixed life sentence as the natural life of the prisoner.
He wrote on the form that he wants to be let out of prison “immediately, if not sooner.”
Hanks’s public defender wrote that his case is “unusual, but not frivolous.”
According to the 1984 case file, the woman’s husband, who owned a bar in Minidoka County, told police that Hanks had been drunk in the bar that night and made a sexually suggestive comment toward his wife as she left the bar.
The husband said Hanks left immediately after his wife did.
Later, the bar owner found his wife’s car in the road with its lights on and the engine running.
Police stopped Hanks for a traffic violation and questioned the victim, who was still in the car with blood on her clothing and had been obviously beaten.
The woman told police Hanks was flashing his headlights at her as he followed her in his car after she left the bar. She stopped her car thinking it must be her husband, and he yanked her out of her car and forced her into his. In his car he held her down and struck her multiple times.
She said he took her to his home, put duct tape on her eyes and sexually assaulted her.
The woman said he threatened to kill her, and he agreed to drop her off in town if she was nice to him.
He didn’t take the tape off until he forced her back into his car.
At the time of the 1984 crimes, Hanks had two previous felonies, one for forcible rape in 1966 and fourth-degree arson in 1979.
A court trial in the post-conviction relief case is scheduled for March 22 in Minidoka County District Court in front of Judge Jonathan Brody.
WENDELL — Two Magic Valley schools with high poverty rates and low student test scores will get extra help this school year.
Wendell Middle School and Mt. Harrison Junior/Senior High School, an alternative school in Heyburn, are voluntarily participating in a new, one-year state pilot project aimed at turning around struggling schools.
The purpose of the project — led by the Idaho State Department of Education — is to help seven schools create an improvement plan and find them the support they need to help their students.
“It’s bringing everyone together as a large group to say, ‘How are we going to fix this school?” said Tyson Carter, coordinator for school improvement/educator effectiveness for the Idaho State Department of Education.
Each participating school — which is in the bottom 5 percent in Idaho for student achievement — has a technical assistance team, made up of state education leaders, school and school district employees.
It’s a relationship-building effort, Carter said, rather than a “gotcha” or punitive effort by the state. “We’re not the enforcer. We’re not the ones telling them they’re right or wrong.”
Wendell School District Superintendent Greg Lowe said he’s excited about the opportunity and funding that comes with it. “We do have some needs with school improvement, and we definitely always want to be getting better.”
After receiving a phone call from the state with an invitation to participate, he talked about the opportunity with Brian Jadwin, Wendell Middle School’s new principal who started this year. They decided to participate.
They went to an informational session in October in Boise. “We’re 110 percent on board,” Lowe said.
Jadwin said he’s emphasizing with this staff that the project isn’t punitive. “The state is trying to help us find ways we can help ourselves,” he said. “It’s a good opportunity for us to take a hard look at what we’re doing well and what we can improve upon.”
In addition to the two Magic Valley schools, other participating schools are Challis Elementary School, Jefferson Middle School and Washington Elementary School in Caldwell, Harrison Elementary School in northern Idaho and McCain Middle School in Payette.
A total of $500,000 will be distributed to participating schools. Wendell will receive $73,208, and Mt. Harrison will get $61,824.
“The amount of money is very helpful,” Lowe said.
Each technical assistance team is individualized to each participating school’s needs. For example, if a school is struggling with helping students who are English language learners or in math, the state will bring in specialists in those areas.
Kelly Arritt, principal at Mt. Harrison Junior/Senior High School, said the team is working to identify needs at his school. The team is looking at graduation rates, test scores and other areas such as community involvement. The plan will break down those areas into more specifics.
“We’re glad to have some help with that,” Arritt said.
The bottom line, he added, is the school is “trying hard to do the right thing for kids” and sees the opportunity to participate in the pilot project as a positive thing.
In Wendell, Jadwin said obstacles include math performance and about 24 percent of its student body having limited English proficiency.
Many math programs are available, but they’re online. With a lack of computers for students to use at school, that’s problematic.
“Teachers have been utilizing the online programs, but we’d like to use them more effectively and efficiently,” Jadwin said.
Wendell Middle School has only one computer lab open to classes on a regular basis, while the other is often tied up with Idaho Digital Learning Academy classes.
The IDLA classes are fantastic, Lowe said, but “it limits technology availability.”
To help bring more online math programs to students, “We’re looking at purchasing a set of computer devices for each grade level to ease the burden,” Jadwin said.
The seven Idaho schools participating in the state’s project were previously identified as needing improvement through the No Child Left Behind Act and Idaho’s star rating system for schools. Each of the schools already qualify for Title 1-A federal funding to provide extra academic help to students due to a large percentage of the student body living in poverty. Under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act — which was signed into law in 2015 — Idaho has its own plan, but it hasn't been finalized yet. It’s required to provide some sort of technical assistance to struggling schools.
As the technical assistance project moves forward, the state hopes to get feedback from schools on what’s working well and what isn’t.
“It’s been a huge learning curve for us,” Carter said. “We expect (schools) to be a partner in this.”
*Editor's note: This story was updated Jan. 8 to correct details about when schools are participating and about the Every Student Succeeds Act.
TWIN FALLS — With the new year come fresh starts, but a few old stories still hang in the air, unresolved. From Jerome County’s Snake River Canyon Park to the University of Idaho’s CAFE, here are a few rural issues to watch in 2018:
A federal appeals court this week shot down a clause of Idaho’s ag-gag law, ruling it unconstitutional. Lawmakers will decide if they want to appeal the ruling.
The law “criminalized innocent behavior, was staggeringly overbroad, and that the purpose of the statue was, in large part, targeted at speech and investigative journalists,” U.S. Circuit Judge M. Margaret McKeown said in the ruling.
The state Legislature passed the law in 2014, 2 years after an animal activist — employed by Los Angeles-based Mercy for Animals — infiltrated Dry Creek Dairy near Murtaugh and secretly videoed mistreatment of cows.
The video, which went viral in late 2012, shows workers on the dairy, then owned by Luis Bettencourt, punching and stomping on cows. In response, In-N-Out, Burger King Worldwide and other fast-food companies announced they would stop purchasing milk products from Bettencourt dairies, according to an Oct. 11, 2012, article in the Los Angeles Times.
A handful of states have ag-gag laws similar to the Idaho’s law, introduced by Sen. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls. Patrick said other states are closely watching Idaho’s law as it goes through appeal after appeal.
“They are disappointed in the ruling,” Patrick said Friday in a phone call from the 2018 Legislative Agriculture Chairs Summit in Kansas City, Mo. The issue “affects all of them.”
Dan Steenson, a Boise attorney who helped pen the law, said calling it an ag-gag law is misleading. Formally known as “Idaho’s Interference with Agricultural Production law,” the purpose of the law is to protect ag production facilities from interference by wrongful conduct.
“Those who worked on the law, and the farmers the law is designed to protect, refer to it as Idaho’s ag security law,” Steenson said.
The Ninth Circuit Court didn’t strike down the whole law, Steenson said, only the statutory provisions prohibiting entry by misrepresentation and unauthorized recording. He noted that the decision “does not alter existing Idaho law under which entry to private property gained by fraud or misrepresentation is trespass.”
It’s now “up to the House and Senate to see if we want to keep going,” Patrick said. “It’ll cost money (to appeal), and we need to decide how much it is worth.”
The Idaho Department of Transportation is looking at moving its district headquarters out of Shoshone. But state legislators are fighting to keep the headquarters and its 60 employees in town.
About 1,500 people live in Shoshone, the county seat; about 5,200 people live in Lincoln County, including the tiny towns of Richfield and Dietrich.
“Moving the office will crush Shoshone,” Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, who is joined by Reps. Sally Toone, D-Gooding, and Steve Miller, R-Fairfield, in opposing the move.
Moving the office could cost the town tens — if not hundreds — of thousands of dollars each year in retail sales, studies say.
The ITD has identified three possible sites outside of Shoshone, two of which are at Crossroads Point near the Interstate 84/U.S. 93 junction.
Jerome County leases from the Bureau of Land Management about 4,000 acres of desert for its Snake River Canyon Park. But recreational shooting on nearby endowment land owned by the Idaho Department of Lands make getting to and from the park unsafe.
Jerome County commissioners have asked the IDL to restrict shooting on a narrow strip of land between the park and the Snake River Canyon.
“IDL staff discussed the letter and decided to set up a meeting after the holidays with the commissioners to discuss the issues they brought up in their letter,” IDL spokeswoman Emily Callihan wrote in an email. “A meeting with the commissioners is being coordinated this month.”
During the last legislative session, state lawmakers dedicated $10 million toward the University of Idaho’s proposed Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (CAFE) and promised another $5 million this year if the university could raise the remaining $30 million to build it.
So far the university has raised support for the CAFE — which possibly would be the largest ag research facility in the world — from other universities and industry sectors.
The university and legislators hope to build the CAFE in the Magic Valley, near the College of Southern Idaho and in the middle of the state’s $2.5 billion dairy industry. The university did a feasibility study comparing the cost of two sites in Jerome County.
Many in the Magic Valley see the research center as a boon to the area, but not everyone sees it that way.
Folks in eastern Jerome County objected loudly to idea of the CAFE coming to their part of the world. Officials in both Hazelton and Eden quickly approached the county to rework their impact area agreements to prevent such large agricultural facilities coming too close to town.
Many are wondering how winter will treat the Magic Valley in the next few months. Caught off guard last year by warm temperatures and above normal precipitation, many residents found themselves unable to stem flooding as meltwater found its way onto roads and dairies and into homes, streams and rivers.
But the National Weather Service has not committed to any particular prediction for this winter. According to the NWS projections, temperatures and precipitation totals could be normal, above normal or below normal.
Despite the abundance of irrigation water last winter brought to the Magic Valley, many are hoping the winter was a fluke.
If you do one thing: Twin Falls Public Library will hold a Cabin Fever Day story-walk event from 1 to 3 p.m. with a story and scavenger hunt through Twin Falls City Park, followed by a movie at 3 p.m. at the library, 201 Fourth Ave. E. Free.
WASHINGTON — Two Republican senators have made the first known criminal referral in congressional investigations of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, targeting the author of a dossier of allegations about President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said Friday they had referred former British spy Christopher Steele to the Justice Department for investigation about false statements he may have made to the government. Graham is the chairman of a Judiciary subcommittee that is investigating the Russian meddling.
The referral comes after Republicans in Congress have made several attempts in recent weeks to undermine the credibility of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, the Justice Department and the FBI, charging there is anti-Trump bias within the ranks of federal agents and prosecutors.
In a cover letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray released by the committee, the senators said the referral relates to “certain communications between Christopher Steele and multiple U.S. news outlets regarding the so-called ‘Trump dossier.’” The rest of the referral is classified and was not released.
Lawmakers cannot prosecute, but generally refer any criminal violations they find to the Justice Department. On Friday, Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said the department had received the referral and will review it.
The dossier is a compilation of memos Steele wrote during the 2016 campaign that contained several allegations of connections between Trump and Russia, including that Trump had been compromised by the Kremlin. Trump has called the dossier “phony” and derided it as a politically motivated hit job, and many Republicans in Congress have been focused on discrediting it.
The cover letter does not say who the senators believe Steele lied to, but Grassley said in a statement about the referral that “everyone needs to follow the law and be truthful in their interactions with the FBI.”
Republicans have been asking the Justice Department for months whether the dossier was used as part of its initial investigation into Russian interference.
The dossier was turned over to the FBI in 2016, and federal investigators worked to corroborate portions of it. Some of the information was distilled into a summary that then-FBI Director James Comey presented to then-president-elect Trump in January 2017.
More recently, Mueller’s investigators interviewed Steele in Europe as part of their probe into Russian election interference and ties between Trump associates and the Kremlin.
Trump’s effort to keep Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a vocal and loyal supporter of his election bid, in charge of an investigation into his campaign offers special counsel Mueller yet another avenue to explore as his prosecutors work to untangle potential evidence of obstruction.
The federal investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia already includes a close look at whether Trump’s actions as president constitute an effort to impede that same probe. Those include the firing Comey, an allegation by Comey that Trump encouraged him to end an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn and the president’s role in drafting an incomplete and potentially misleading statement about a 2016 meeting with Russians.
The latest revelation — that Trump directed his White House counsel, Don McGahn, to tell Sessions not to recuse himself from the Russia investigation — is known to Mueller’s investigators, who have interviewed many current and former executive branch officials. It adds to the portrait of a president left furious by an investigation that he has called a hoax and suggests that he worked through an intermediary to keep the inquiry under the watch of an attorney general he expected would be loyal.
Three people familiar with the matter confirmed to The Associated Press that McGahn spoke with Sessions just before he announced his recusal to urge him not to do so. One of the people said McGahn contacted Sessions at the president’s behest. All three spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid publicly discussing an ongoing investigation.
Although the episode makes clear Trump’s exasperation with the investigation, it remains unclear whether Mueller’s team has evidence to establish that the president’s collective actions were done with the corrupt intent needed to prove obstruction of justice.
Trump and his lawyers have repeatedly maintained that he did nothing improper and that, as president, he had unequivocal authority to fire Comey and to take other actions. They may also argue that the president was empowered to want the attorney general he appointed to oversee the Justice Department’s Russian meddling investigation or, as McGahn contended to Sessions, that there was no basis or reason at that time for the attorney general to recuse himself.
BOISE — Idaho’s highest ranking elected officials offered hints of what this year’s legislative session might look like at the Associated Press’s annual legislative preview event Friday morning, touching on topics including education, health care, and criminal justice reform.
Each of those areas will be affected by Idaho’s status as the fastest-growing state in the country.
House and Senate leaders addressed concerns about Idaho’s crowded prison system, an issue the Magic Valley has increasingly felt the effects of over the past year. As state prisons reach capacity and beyond, more inmates are staying in the Twin Falls County Jail for longer periods of time, contributing to a crowding crisis.
“We will experience growing pains in each of these areas, because the prison population is always going to be a percentage of the overall number,” said House Speaker Scott Bedke, a Republican from Oakley.
Legislators will likely defer to the executive branch on the question of whether to build a new prison to house the overflow, Senate Pro Tem Brent Hill said, but noted that he planned to meet soon with Department of Correction Director Henry Atencio.
Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, a Democrat from Ketchum, cited an ongoing bipartisan effort to rethink mandatory minimum sentences in an attempt to reduce the number of state inmates. Mandatory minimum sentences in Idaho range from one to 15 years in prison for drug crimes involving marijuana, cocaine, meth and heroin.
Also present at the preview was Gov. Butch Otter, who used the opportunity to announce a new executive order “restoring choice in health insurance for Idahoans.”
In his remarks at the event, Otter said education would once again be a priority for him in his last year in office. The comments came one day after the governor announced that he plans to push for a “chief education officer” position to streamline functions in the state’s higher education system.
“When was the last time you heard robust debate on an education bill in the state?” he asked the crowd, suggesting that momentum on education legislation had slowed since the state adopted its five-year Career Ladder plan in 2015.
Otter then turned to health care, introducing an executive order that would let insurance companies create new health care plans that don’t have all the requirements of the Affordable Health Care Act.
The Department of Insurance hasn’t yet decided which requirements to drop, according to Director Dean Cameron, but Otter estimated that the new guidelines would lower the cost of some plans by as much as 50 percent.
Seven requirements will remain, Cameron said, but it’s unknown what those requirements might be.