A Las Vegas man wrongfully convicted of murdering a Circus Circus Hotel and Casino entertainer has been awarded a settlement of more than $1.35 million.
Frederick Lee Steese, 57, was convicted March 1, 1995, of murdering Gerard Soules, an entertainer at Circus Circus on the Las Vegas Strip. A former trapeze artist, Soules at the time was a dog trainer who performed a circus act at the casino with costumed poodles.
Lisa Rasmussen, a criminal defense attorney, worked with Steese in winning his freedom in 2013, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. In 2017, the Nevada Board of Pardons Commissioners granted him an unconditional pardon, clearing him of murder.
District Judge Jasmin Lilly-Spells on Monday approved the financial compensation and a certificate of innocence.
Rasmussen has helped Steese, a long-haul trucker and handyman, adjust outside prison walls.
It’s just an incredible relief that I’ve been able to accomplish this for him,” Rasmussen told the newspaper.
Steese is set to receive $75,000 for each of the 18 years he was in prison in the wrongful conviction.
Soules grew up in Michigan and left at 16 to join the circus. After being injured in his 20s, he transitioned from working as a trapeze artist to becoming the “ringmaster of a pack of well-dressed poodles,” according to Vanity Fair magazine. Soules became known as the Poodle King.
In 1992, Soules began performing the poodle act at Circus Circus. The act included 14 poodles, one in a poncho and sombrero, one in a Moulin Rouge-style can-can outfit, and others wearing three-foot-tall hats or hoopskirts, the magazine reported. Soules made the costumes himself.
At one point, the 55-year-old Soules spotted Steese along the road with a “Will Work for Food” sign. Soules took Steese back to the North Las Vegas R.V. park where the entertainer was living with his poodles.
The two began a friendship, but Steese moved on, the magazine reported.
After Soules did not show up for work one day, his boss went to the trailer. The dogs usually were quiet, but this time they began barking. Soules’ boss alerted authorities. Detectives found Soules’ body in the trailer. He was naked, with an orange towel over his face, the magazine reported.
According to Vanity Fair, “Soules’s throat had been slashed, and he’d been stabbed so many times that the coroner stopped counting at 35.”
When detectives contacted Steese by phone, he drove nearly 30 hours straight from Wisconsin to Nevada, according to Vanity Fair.
After almost five hours of interrogation, Steese signed a confession, his sixth version of events, the magazine reported.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, Steese was in Idaho at the time of Soules’s death and provided alibi witnesses. Rasmussen said Steese’s confession was coerced.
Casino Circus Acts
Circus Circus opened in 1968 on the west side of the Las Vegas Strip near Sahara Avenue. Circus performers conduct various acts above the gaming floor.
In late 2019, the Nevada Gaming Commission approved MGM Resorts International’s sale of Circus Circus to billionaire Phil Ruffin.
In the 1970s, Tony Spilotro, a mobster overseeing Las Vegas for the Chicago Outfit, operated a gift shop in Circus Circus. In the 1995 movie Casino, actor Joe Pesci portrayed a character based on Spilotro.
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