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Old murder case resurfaces in Department 19 race

Updated October 2, 2020 - 7:41 pm

An attorney challenging a longtime judge in November criticized his record on the District Court bench and as a prosecutor, while the incumbent pointed to a state bar reprimand lodged against his opponent, Crystal Eller.

William “Bill” Kephart, a former prosecutor who was elected to Department 19 in 2015 after spending four years as a Las Vegas justice of the peace, defended his prosecution of Fred Steese, who was pardoned after serving 21 years in prison for a 1992 killing.

While another judge found that no reasonable juror would have found Steese guilty based on new evidence that called into question the credibility of that used by Kephart, he suggested in a Review-Journal debate that Steese was guilty.

“I’m telling you right now, I have no regrets,” Kephart said. “I’m telling you right now, there’s a murderer out in our public.”

Eller, who has been licensed to practice law in Nevada since 1993, pointed to findings that said Kephart withheld evidence, which she called “absolutely prosecutorial misconduct.”

Kephart, meanwhile, questioned Eller’s courtroom qualifications, and noted that the Nevada State Bar reprimanded her as recently as April. According to the reprimand, Eller charged unreasonable legal fees and committed ethical violations that “could have caused potential injury to the public as well as the legal profession.”

Kephart referred to Eller’s actions as “professional misconduct.”

“I don’t know if it’s her arrogance or her ignorance to think she can sit on the District Court,” he said. “When a lawyer leaves a wake of victims in their legal practice, they are certainly not suited for a role as a judge. To constitute a victim by way of the law is insufferable to me both as a lawyer and a judge.”

Kephart is seeking his second term on the District Court bench.

Eller, who argued that she had “done nothing wrong,” said that she has worked as a criminal defense attorney in federal and state court.

She questioned Kephart’s temperament on the bench, referring to a Nevada Supreme Court decision that said Kephart went too far in ordering a man to serve life in prison without parole after he repeatedly cursed at the judge during his sentencing hearing.

Kephart said the defendant, a reputed white supremacist who has since been charged with murder in a separate case, threatened him and a deputy district attorney.

“I truly recognized that the community would not be safe,” Kephart said. “I stand by what I did. I thought that was the most appropriate sentence.”

In a lighter moment, Eller, who had raised about $25,000, produced a musical campaign video that parodied the song Old Town Road, in which she appears riding on a horse through Las Vegas to the steps of the Regional Justice Center.

Kephart, who had raised about $77,000 for his campaign, took a more straightforward approach. His website emphasizes a “tough, fair, firm” judge.

Contact David Ferrara at dferrara@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-1039. Follow @randompoker on Twitter.

A previous version of this story misstated which term Kephart is seeking on the District Court bench.

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