RUPERT — A 74-year-old Paul man has spent nearly 34 years of a life sentence for kidnapping and raping a woman in 1984. He says he’s done his sentence, and he wants out.
It’s now up to a judge to decide whether Melvin Dean Hanks will die in his cell.
Confusion exists as to what the judge said in court the day Hanks was sentenced after a five-day trial for first-degree kidnapping, attempted rape, aggravated battery and two counts of crime against nature for oral and anal rape.
Hanks was in court Monday claiming he should have been released more than three years ago.
His attorney, Dennis Byington, told Minidoka County District Judge Jonathan Brody that a typed note on Hanks’ sentencing document says the judge sentenced Hanks to life in prison but also said Hanks would serve no more than 30 years. Hanks said his prior attorney told him he’d “get out then.”
Minidoka County Deputy Prosecutor Stan Holloway, however, claims it was a determinate life sentence, which means to the end of his natural life.
“Nothing in the case contradicts that sentence,” Holloway said.
Brody listened to both sides and will issue a decision. If he approves Hanks’ petition for post-conviction release, the case will move to the state appellate court. If Brody denies it, a trial date for the motion will be set.
Byington said Hanks was sentenced to serve a maximum of 30 years; Holloway said Hanks acknowledged in an affidavit that he understood he faced a life sentence.
“He was well aware that he was doing a fixed-life sentence,” Holloway said.
Byington said the court minutes from the sentencing hearing are missing or were destroyed and the attorney representing Hanks at the time never requested a transcript.
Without the court records, it is impossible to know what was said in the courtroom and if Hanks’ sentence was not to exceed 30 years, Byington said.
“This is a court of record and it’s not Hanks’ fault we can’t find the minutes,” Byington said.
Brody said the state changed the sentencing statute around the time Hanks was committed.
Hanks filed a petition with the court in 1985 for a sentence reduction because his sentence precluded him from getting treatment in prison. The request was denied. He filed the current petition in 2016.
Constitutionally, an extra burden can’t be put on Hanks to prove what was written in the minutes, he said. The court acts by its records, the court speaks only through records and the judge speaks only through the court, Byington said.
Brody said an oral order by the judge would supersede anything written in the courtroom.
According to the 1984 case file, Hanks was drunk at a Minidoka County bar and made a sexually suggestive comment towards the bar owner’s wife when she left the establishment. Hanks immediately left after she did, and the bar-owner later found his wife’s car in the road with its lights on and the engine running.
Hanks was pulled over for a traffic violation and police questioned the woman, who had been beaten and had blood on her clothing.
She told police Hanks flashed his headlights at her as he followed her in his car after she left the bar that night. She stopped her car because she thought it was her husband, and Hanks yanked her out of her car and forced her into his, where he held her down and struck her multiple times.
The woman said Hanks drove her to his home, put duct tape on her eyes and sexually assaulted her.
Brody said he does not know how long it will take for him to decide the outcome of the case.