Thursday, Dec. 15, 2005 | 7:14 a.m.
CARSON CITY -- After serving 24 years in prison for a murder he committed when he was 15 years old, Bennie Ficklin has gained clemency.
The state Board of Pardons on Wednesday voted 8-1 to reduce the term of life without possibility of parole, allowing Ficklin, now 40, to apply to the parole board for release.
After the vote, Ficklin wiped away his tears and leaned back in his chair and sighed. It was the third time he has appeared before the board seeking mercy.
He told the board it was "a horrible crime" and "for 24 years I have been regretting it. Thank God for the Turk family to forgive me."
Ficklin went into a Las Vegas bar in 1981 to rob it. He shot Thomas Turk, a bar customer, in the back of the head with a shotgun.
Nevada Supreme Court Justice Bill Maupin, a member of the board, said there has been a "substantial change" in Ficklin during the time he has been in prison.
The board is composed of the governor, attorney general and the seven justices of the Supreme Court.
Attorney General George Chanos was the lone dissenter. He said Ficklin has made progress in prison, but said, "I would like to see more." He said Ficklin should continue to improve himself.
Steve Owens, a Clark County chief deputy district attorney, opposed the sentence reduction. He said an undercover officer was in the bar at the time of the offense. The undercover officer said Turk had trouble laying flat on the floor and was not pulling his wallet out as fast at Ficklin wanted when he was shot.
Owens said this was a first-degree murder conviction and doesn't merit the board's mercy. He said the board should honor the jury's verdict.
But Glen Whorton, director of the state Department of Corrections, recommended that Ficklin be immediately allowed to apply for parole. He said Ficklin came in at a "tender age" when most people are "impulsive."
He said Ficklin has had 17 disciplinary infractions over the years and has shown a "level of self control." Whorton noted this was the only favorable recommendation he made to the pardons board involving someone who had committed a violent crime.
Dorla Salling, chairwoman of the state Parole Board, said Ficklin would probably be on the January or February agenda of the board.
The board denied the application of Lawrence Baccari, now 60, who killed Debra Harrison, 25, a mother of four, in Las Vegas in 1977. He tried to pick her up and when she refused he shot and stabbed her.
The vote was 7-2 with Justices Maupin and Bob Rose favoring clemency for Baccari, who is serving a life term without the possibility of parole.
Baccari expressed "remorse and sorrow" over the killing and said he has been trying to "make myself right." He said he is taking medication for depression and social anxiety. "I've been doing very well."
Chanos said this was an issue of "public safety." He said Baccari must convince the board he was not a threat to society. He said he was not comfortable in allowing Baccari a chance to be released.
Maupin said Baccari has been "diagnosed and treated for mental health" problems. The justice said he was not sure Baccari was ready for release now but suggested the inmate be given an opportunity to appear before the parole board. He said the parole board could have a mental health evaluation done.
Cy Ryan may be reached at (775) 687-5032 or at [email protected]