Kentucky Court Vacates Murder Convictions of Two Men Based on New DNA and Evidence of Police Fabrication and Misconduct
07.15.16 By Paul Cates
(July 15, 2016 – Louisville, KY) A Circuit Court in Meade County, Kentucky, today reversed the 1995 murder convictions of Garr Keith Hardin and Jeffrey Dewayne Clark based on new DNA and other evidence pointing to their innocence. The two men have served more than 20 years of a life sentence for the crime.
“We are grateful that the court vacated the convictions of Mr. Hardin and Mr. Clark based on compelling new evidence of their innocence,” said Linda Smith, supervising attorney of the Kentucky Innocence Project. “We hope that Commonwealth’s Attorney David Williams will realize the futility in continuing this wrongful prosecution and join us in our motion to dismiss. The original case was based on nothing more than hysteria and unreliable evidence that has today been completely discredited.”
Seema Saifee, a staff attorney with the Innocence Project, added, “The new DNA and evidence of egregious police misconduct completely disproves the state’s theory of what happened in this case. Mr. Hardin and Mr. Clark have served more than 20 years fighting for justice and we hope they will soon be reunited with their families.”
Hardin and Jeffrey Clark were convicted in 1995 of stabbing to death 19-year-old Rhonda Sue Warford and dumping her body in a field locally referred to as Dead Horse Hollow. At trial, the prosecution’s main “evidence” was its claim that Hardin and Clark committed the 1992 murder as part of a Satanic sacrifice – this was despite the fact that the state’s own expert acknowledged that nothing about the crime was consistent with a Satanic ritual sacrifice.
A microscopic hair expert claimed that a hair found on the sweatpants worn by the victim at the time of her death “matched” to Hardin. This was the only physical evidence linking the men to the crime or crime scene. In fact, hairs recovered in the victim’s hand did not match either Hardin or Clark.
The state relied on the testimony of a jailhouse informant who claimed that Clark confessed to the crime. In 1995, shortly after Hardin and Clark’s convictions, a letter surfaced revealing that the jailhouse informant attempted to solicit another inmate to fabricate testimony against Hardin and Clark to receive a reduced sentence. Hardin and Clark moved for a new trial based on this letter which would have revealed that the jailhouse informant committed perjury. However, the trial court refused to vacate their convictions, ruling that the new evidence would not have changed the outcome.
The state also claimed a bloody cloth and broken glass recovered from Hardin’s home supported its theory that the crime was motivated by Satanic sacrifice. The prosecution claimed that the blood on the cloth was deposited during a ritual animal sacrifice and the glass was a “chalice” from which Hardin drank the blood of the animals he sacrificed for Satan. At trial, Hardin testified that the blood on the cloth was his own blood, caused by cutting himself on the glass. The amount of blood was insufficient for DNA testing at the time of trial.
To connect the blood-stained cloth to the state’s theory, prosecutors relied on the sworn testimony of Louisville Metro Police Detective Mark Handy. Detective Handy testified that Hardin told him that he killed animals as a form of Satanic ritual and “got tired of looking at animals and began to want to do human sacrifices.” Hardin denied ever killing animals or ever making these statements.
The two men were convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
The Innocence Project and the Kentucky Innocence Project moved for DNA testing in 2009. The trial court denied the request. After years of appeals, in 2013, the Kentucky Supreme Court granted testing and ruled that it was “mystified, if not amazed, that the Commonwealth has such little interest” in the possibility that DNA testing might yield exculpatory results. DNA testing was conducted on the hair on the victim’s sweatpants that the state’s analyst claimed “matched” to Hardin. The hair conclusively did not come from Hardin or Clark, disproving a significant part of the state’s case against the men. DNA testing was also performed on the bloody cloth that the prosecution claimed was deposited during a Satanic animal sacrifice. The testing revealed that the blood was Hardin’s, as he truthfully testified at trial.
New evidence discovered since the trial also reveals that Det. Mark Handy, who attributed incriminating statements against Hardin and Clark, lied under oath in other high profile murder cases in Louisville — at the same time that Hardin and Clark were investigated and prosecuted. In particular, new evidence reveals that in another murder investigation in the early 1990s, Det. Handy coerced a false confession from an innocent man who was eventually exonerated fourteen years later in 2009. During the 2009 re-investigation, a Louisville Metro Police Sergeant recommended that Det. Handy be criminally investigated for his misconduct. Evidence also reveals that Det. Handy erased a key witness’s tape recorded statement in another murder investigation in Louisville in 1992 and lied about it under oath at the defendant’s suppression hearing in 1995.
“The judge’s findings in this case should trigger an audit by prosecutors of other cases investigated by Detective Handy like the audit by Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson of the cases of Detective Louis Scarcella, which has resulted in numerous exonerations,” said Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project.”
In reaching its decision, the Meade County Circuit Court found that each of the new pieces of DNA and non-DNA evidence would make it “reasonably probable that a jury would reach a different result at another trial.” The court also noted that it “is ‘confronted with the stark reality’ that Mr. Hardin and Mr. Clark were convicted based on ‘suppositions that we now know to be fundamentally false.’” The court ruled that the new evidence of Detective Handy’s misconduct “significantly undermines” his credibility and testimony at Hardin and Clark’s trial and would have led the jury to reject Detective Handy’s testimony about statements allegedly made to him by Hardin and Clark.
It is now up to the prosecution to determine whether to dismiss the indictment or retry the case.
Hardin is represented by the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law, and Clark is represented by the Kentucky Innocence Project.