Board rejects pardon for man who killed father as 15-year-old

CARSON CITY — Conan Pope had two allies when he went before the state Pardons Board on Wednesday.

Pope, who killed his abusive father at age 15, had hoped for a pardon so that he could join the military and help support the child he and his girlfriend are going to have.

On his side were Pardons Board members Mark Gibbons and Michael Cherry, Nevada Supreme Court justices who handled his court case in Las Vegas when they were district judges.

They were sympathetic to the now 25-year-old man, who hasn’t been able to find a good job since he was released from prison two years ago, largely because of the stigma of being a killer.

But Pope’s two allies couldn’t beat a salient fact of his post-prison life — heroin.

On a 6-2 vote, the Pardons Board rejected giving a pardon to Pope.

The board members made their decision after Bernie Curtis, the state Parole and Probation chief, said Pope was caught using heroin last year.

Chris Owens, a deputy district attorney in Clark County, maintained that giving a pardon to Pope now would send a bad message to other young people who live with abusive parents.

“There are other youth out there with bad parents, but they don’t shoot them,” Owens said.

Without a pardon, Pope said, he could not carry weapons, and no branch of the military would accept his enlistment.

“I was 15; I killed my father,” acknowledged Pope, who spoke in almost a whisper when addressing the board.

He said little else during the 18-minute hearing. An obviously upset Pope wouldn’t comment after the hearing, when he was consoled and embraced by a male friend outside the courtroom.

Pope served six years in prison on voluntary manslaughter charges for killing his father, Frank Pope, in their southeast Las Vegas home on Jan. 6, 2000. He was discharged from prison in 2007.

In an interview Wednesday, his lawyer, Kristina Wildeveld, said Pope has had difficulty finding jobs because employers invariably “Google this name” and find out about the killing.

He can find only odd jobs, and he secures them only after she talks with the employer, she said.

Wildeveld said she believes Pope used heroin only once when he was “self-medicating” after a car accident in which he broke his back.

He lost his job as an apprentice electrician and had no insurance after the accident, so he turned to self-medication, Wildeveld said.

“None of us can imagine the life that Conan Pope has lived,” she said.

She said Frank Pope had killed two of his children and bragged about killing a German civilian when he was in the Army.

In the end, only Gibbons and Cherry voted to pardon Pope. As a district judge, Gibbons first handled Pope’s case, while Cherry was the judge at his trial.

Gibbons said Pope’s case led to a lot of discussion about housing juveniles in prisons with adults. “I have a lot of empathy for Mr. Pope,” the justice said.

Although Frank Pope was a bad man, Gibbons said, “You don’t kill people because they are bad.”

Cherry said he had no choice under the law but to sentence Pope to prison at the time.

Nonetheless, Gov. Jim Gibbons, Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and four other Supreme Court justices voted against granting the pardon. The justices, the governor and Masto make up the Pardons Board.

Chief Justice Jim Hardesty told Pope that he must be a productive member of society for a longer time before he tries again to seek a pardon.

When he was sentenced in 2001, Pope said he appreciated the support he received from Las Vegans who wanted leniency for him because of his abusive home environment. Pope said he realized others have watched his life after prison and hope he fails.

“But I am not going to fail,” he said.

Cherry said at the time that he would pray for him every day.

Pope could have received a life term.

At his trial, Pope said he shot his father to protect himself and his 16-year-old sister. But his sister, Desiree Pope, testified that she did not believe her brother had acted to protect her.

He and his sister told police their father became enraged when he came home to find dirty dishes in their kitchen. They said Frank Pope cursed them, smashed dishes and sent them to their rooms.

Conan Pope told police he got his rifle after leaving his bedroom and seeing his father walking menacingly toward Desiree’s room.

Pope said he fired after his father swung a broom at him, then shot him one more time as he lay on the floor.

But during the trial, Desiree Pope testified that her father intended her no harm and she did not believe her brother had acted to protect her.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at or 775-687-3901.

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