By Amy Smith
A man once convicted of killing two LDS missionaries in Austin, Texas, may never face justice in the United States.
At least not without Texas prosecutors struggling to bring him back into the country.
Robert Elmer Kleasen, 67, whose death sentence in 1974 was reversed, was sentenced Friday, June 9, to three years in a British prison for unrelated firearms violations, according to the Associated Press.
Rosemary Lehmberg, first assistant district attorney for the district attorney’s office in Travis County, Texas, said Kleasen’s conviction in Grimsby Crown Court may determine if and when prosecutors will have the possibility of re-opening the trial over the 1974 missionary killings.
“(Kleasen’s conviction in England) won’t affect our case, but it will affect time,” she said.
Kleasen’s criminal history in the United States, which includes the 1974 murders and several convictions for weapons and other assault violations, prompted the British judge to recommend Kleasen be deported after serving his prison term in England, Lehmberg said.
The district attorney’s office in Texas wants to extradite Kleasen — something that isn’t easy to do from the United Kingdom, Lehmberg said.
Instead, the district attorney’s office may need to wait for the United Kingdom to deport Kleasen to another country, she said.
Although it is unsure which country Kleasen may be deported to, Lehmberg said the district attorney’s office will work hard to keep track of where Kleasen is over the next several years.
If he is not deported to the United States, Lehmberg hopes Kleasen will be deported to a country that has easier extradition laws.
The DA’s office is now waiting to hear from the FBI in London and the Office of International Affairs in Washington, D.C., about Kleasen’s parole and deportation options, she said.
Before the case in the United Kingdom, Lehmberg did not know where Kleasen was located.
“There was speculation that he had died,” Lehmberg said. “Then he showed up in England.”
Kleasen served two years on death row after his conviction for the murders of Elders Gary Smith Darley, 20, of Simi Valley, Calif., and Mark J. Fischer, 19, of Milwaukee, missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His sentence was reversed, because the court ruled that police used an insufficient search warrant when gathering evidence from Kleasen’s trailer.
The two missionaries, who had gone to a dinner appointment at Kleasen’s home, were shot to death, and their bodies were never found.
If Kleasen is re-tried in the Unites States for murdering Darley and Fischer, prosecutors cannot use the evidence that was retrieved from the original search warrant, Lehmberg said.
That evidence includes Fischer’s bloody wristwatch and his missionary tag with a bullet hole through it, according to the AP.
However, Texas prosecutors have located new evidence that could help reconvict Kleasen for the murders of Darley and Fischer. New technology such as DNA could play a vital role in a new case 25 years later, Lehmberg said.
“We’ve been luckier than I thought we’d be in finding things,” she said.
Kleasen received the death penalty after his first trial and could be given a life sentence or death row if he is convicted again of capital murder at a re-trial, Lehmberg said.