At the urging of the man who put him behind bars, the Parole and Pardons Board on Wednesday let Michael Anselmo see a hint of light at the end of his prison term.
With only Justice Michael Douglas and Attorney General George Chanos voting no, the board commuted Anselmo's life sentence for murder to allow the possibility of parole.
But they left in place a consecutive 10-year sentence for escaping prison in 1976. That means if Anselmo is paroled from the murder sentence, he will still have to serve a minimum of 2-1/2 years for the escape before becoming eligible for release from prison.
Anselmo was a teenager when he grabbed Trudy Ann Hiler, 22, as she left the Cal-Neva Lodge in Lake Tahoe after finishing her shift in July 1971. She was found two days later under a rock ledge between the casino and the lake shore, stabbed and strangled to death.
Anselmo, now 53, has served 34 years since his 1972 conviction. Justice Bob Rose, who was Washoe County District Attorney and prosecuted Anselmo, said he believes it is time to allow the defendant the possibility of parole from prison.
"Michael is one of the longest serving prisoners in our system," he said. "At the time he was sentenced, a first-degree murder conviction would normally serve 15 to 20 years."
He said the defendant "complicated his situation" by escaping from prison twice in 1976. Otherwise, he would probably have been granted commutation by now.
He said when Anselmo appeared before the pardons board 15 years ago, "I felt it was too soon."
"I do believe he should have the opportunity to go before the parole board," he said. "After 34 years in prison, Michael has paid for his crime."
The board, which consists of the seven Supreme Court justices, the attorney general and the governor, didn't want to give Anselmo immediate eligibility for parole. Justice Jim Hardesty suggested they commute the murder sentence but leave the consecutive escape sentence to follow it. The majority agreed.
Anselmo was an 18-year-old busboy at the Cal-Neva Lodge when he committed the murder. He led security officers to the victim and, initially, confessed saying he did it while under the influence of a large amount of LSD. But during trial, he denied the murder, trying to pin it on another man identified only as "John."
The victim was strangled with her own pantyhose and found partially naked, but, Rose said, there was no evidence to support a sexual assault charge in the case. Anselmo was convicted only of murder.
Rose made it clear the commutation in no way guarantees the parole board will release Anselmo.
-- Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.