Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Frank LaPena

Other Clark County, Nevada exonerations
In the early morning hours of January 14, 1974, 64-year-old Marvin Krause, an executive at Caesar’s Palace Casino who lived in a gated housing development on a golf course in Las Vegas, Nevada, was ambushed as he got into his car to work.

Two men with stockings over their heads forced him into the house where they tied him up as well as his 71-year-old wife, Hilda. Krause was knocked unconscious. When he awoke and untied himself, he found his wife had been murdered.

Krause told police that he had been attacked by two men after he opened his garage door and as he was getting into his car to go to work. The men forced him into the house where they beat him and tied him up, murdered his wife, and stole a television, gold coins, and jewelry, including a diamond ring and a watch.

Krause said that after the men left, he untied himself and went upstairs to aid his wife. The men stole Krause’s car and drove away, but abandoned it at the gates of the country club. Krause, who suffered a head injury in the attack, died the following year from unrelated causes.

An autopsy determined that Hilda had her throat slit and a butcher knife was protruding from her back. A gag was tied loosely around her face. The autopsy also revealed that Hilda had been strangled with a cord or rope prior to having her throat slit and that she had sustained several stab wounds to her neck after her throat had been slit.

A few days later, Joey Costanza, a reputed loan shark, told police that six weeks earlier, Gerald Weakland had approached Costanza about assisting in a robbery/murder that was to take place in the early morning hours before one of the victims went to work. There was a wall to be scaled. Costanza provided the address of the crime—the residence of Marvin and Hilda Krause. Costanza also mentioned two others who might have been involved—Tommy Boutwell, a former quarterback for the University of Southern Mississippi, and Bobby Webb.

In March 1974, police arrested Weakland. On March 29, Weakland, in return for a promise of a lenient sentence, gave a statement saying that he and Boutwell had been hired by 35-year-old Frank LaPena, a casino bellhop, to commit the crime. According to Weakland, Krause was having an affair with a cocktail waitress, Rosalie Maxwell. Maxwell was not in love with Krause—her true love was LaPena. According to Weakland, LaPena and Maxwell wanted Hilda murdered so that she could marry Marvin and live a life of wealth and comfort while she continued to be LaPena’s boyfriend.

Police interviewed Maxwell and LaPena, who both denied involvement in the crime. They did acknowledge the love triangle. Maxwell told police that LaPena was her “true love” while Krause was her “live one.” LaPena said that he knew about the Krause–Maxwell relationship and “he didn't care as long as the money kept coming in.”

Although Costanza told police that the names of LaPena and Maxwell never came up in his conversation with Weakland, on April 23, 1974, LaPena and Maxwell were arrested on charges of first-degree murder and robbery with the use of a deadly weapon. Weakland said he first asked Webb to help him, but that ultimately Boutwell took part. Boutwell, however, was never charged.

In August 1975, Weakland pled guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to five years to life in prison. He asserted, “I took the knife and I slit her throat.” He maintained that he did not strangle Hilda and did not stab her in the neck.

At a preliminary hearing, Weakland testified that he met LaPena and Maxwell at Maxwell’s residence, where he was offered $1,000 in advance and $10,000 in the future. In addition, LaPena would forgive the considerable sum that Weakland, a chronic gambler, owed him.

In 1976, Maxwell went to trial first in Clark County District Court. She was acquitted after Weakland recanted and said he gave a false statement because police pressured him and he wanted leniency.

Although Weakland also recanted at LaPena’s trial, the prosecution introduced his preliminary hearing testimony as well as a video of his statement to police. LaPena, who was represented by attorney Harry Reid (who later served as U.S. Senator from 1987 to 2017), presented evidence that he was home on the night that Weakland claimed he met with Maxwell and LaPena to discuss the plan. On April 10, 1977, a jury convicted LaPena of first-degree murder and robbery with the use of a deadly weapon. He was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole. Subsequently, Weakland was convicted of perjury for his recantation.

In 1982, the Nevada Supreme Court reversed the conviction, ruling that the prosecution should not have been allowed to present Weakland’s prior testimony and statements.

In 1983, LaPena was released on bond pending a retrial. There ensued a lengthy battle over whether the defense could be allowed to call Costanza, the original informant, as a witness. Ultimately, Constanza was not called to testify.

In May 1989, LaPena went to trial a second time. Just prior to the trial, the prosecution offered him a deal: plead guilty and get a sentence of time served, allowing for his immediate release. LaPena refused, claiming he was innocent.

At this trial, Weakland, who had been denied parole repeatedly and was seeking the support of the prosecution in his bid for release, reverted to his testimony at the preliminary hearing that incriminated LaPena. At least one jailhouse informant testified that LaPena had admitted being involved in the crime, while several others testified that Weakland admitted that he falsely implicated LaPena.

On May 20, 1989, LaPena was convicted of first-degree murder and robbery with use of a deadly weapon. He returned to prison, now sentenced to life in prison without parole. The Nevada Supreme Court affirmed the convictions in 1991.

In 1995, he was granted a hearing on a post-conviction petition that asserted his trial defense attorney had provided an inadequate legal defense by failing to impeach Weakland with information relating to his original plea agreement. In 1997, the district court granted the petition and vacated LaPena’s convictions. In June 1997, LaPena was released on bond.

The prosecution appealed and in December 1998, the Nevada Supreme Court overturned the order granting a new trial and reinstated LaPena’s convictions. The Court said, “We do not contradict the finding that Weakland was not impeached at trial using the specific 1982 agreement wherein law enforcement agreed to stop ‘sabotaging Mr. Weakland’s efforts to get paroled’ in exchange for Weakland's testimony before the grand jury and at trial. Rather, we find that Weakland's credibility was, nonetheless, substantially impeached at trial, such that LaPena's counsel rendered ‘reasonably effective assistance.’”

On December 9, 1998, LaPena surrendered and went back to prison.

In 2011, LaPena moved for DNA testing of the evidence. After tests were performed, his attorneys filed a new petition for a new trial. The petition noted that DNA recovered from a green cord found in the room where Marvin Krause was bound and beaten was consistent with the male profile also present in a bloodstain on a sheet in that room. The FBI analyst who conducted the test considered it likely that Marvin Krause was the source of the unknown male profile. Krause’s DNA was not available since he had been dead since 1975. DNA evidence on an electrical cord found next to Hilda's body matched her DNA profile mixed with at least one other profile, of which Weakland and the unknown male were excluded as possible contributors, the petition said.

In addition, Weakland's profile was linked to a hair found in a carpet taken from the room where Hilda was killed, and Hilda's profile matched the hair found in her hand, the petition said.

The petition for a new trial was denied. And In 2018, the Nevada Supreme Court upheld that ruling. “The new DNA evidence suggesting that Hilda was strangled with the electrical cord before her throat was slit was cumulative of the medical examiner's testimony. As Weakland was already impeached on this inconsistency with his account, as well as on numerous other grounds, the new evidence does not suggest that a different result was reasonably probable,” the court said. “Further, a different result is not reasonably probable as the electrical-cord evidence undermines LaPena's theory that Marvin was the second killer in the room and merely supports that an unknown third party handled the electrical cord at some point, not necessarily during the killing.”

In December 2003, the Nevada Board of Pardons voted 7 to 1 to reduce LaPena’s sentence to life with the possibility of parole. Among those who testified on LaPena’s behalf was former Supreme Court Justice Al Gunderson, who said his analysis of the evidence suggested that LaPena shouldn't even have been charged in the case because the only incriminating evidence was from an accomplice who had been given a deal by the prosecution.

In January 2005, LaPena was released on parole.

In 2019, Nevada passed a law that provided for compensation for the wrongfully convicted. In November 2019, the Pardon Board granted LaPena a conditional pardon.

LaPena then applied for and was granted a certificate of innocence on June 30, 2021. In August 2021, the State Board of Examiners awarded LaPena $1.98 million in compensation.

Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford said in a statement, “No amount of money can ever replace our freedom, but with this decision, Mr. LaPena will receive some redress for the years he has lost.”

On January 5, 2022, LaPena filed a federal civil-rights lawsuit against Clark County, the City of Las Vegas, and officers and prosecutors involved in his arrest and wrongful conviction.

– Maurice Possley

Report an error or add more information about this case.

Posting Date: 8/30/2021
Last Updated: 2/17/2022
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Robbery
Reported Crime Date:1974
Age at the date of reported crime:35
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No