In 1995, Garr Keith Hardin and Jeffrey Dewayne Clark were convicted of killing 19-year-old Rhonda Sue Warford and sentenced to life in prison. But in July, a circuit court judge in Meade County, Kentucky, vacated their convictions based on DNA and other compelling evidence pointing to their innocence. Despite the judge’s sharp order ruling that the men were convicted based on fundamentally false and misleading evidence, prosecutors have decided to indict Hardin and Clark on new charges that include kidnapping, a capital felony that carries the death penalty. But in a motion filed last month, attorneys for both men argue that the charges were brought by the commonwealth in vindictive retaliation for winning their case, and that they should be dismissed with prejudice.
Garr Keith Hardin at 2016 hearing. Aaron Borton/ Innocence Project
As written about yesterday in the Courier-Journal, prosecutors argued at trial that Hardin and Clark stabbed Warford to death as part of a Satanic sacrifice, despite the fact that the state’s own expert acknowledged that nothing about the crime was consistent with a Satanic ritual sacrifice.
The only physical evidence that allegedly linked the men to the crime scene was a hair found on the victim’s body. An expert witness for the state testified that the hair was a “match” to Hardin’s head hair. But results from DNA testing prove that that expert testimony was wrong, scientifically invalid and exceeded the limits of science.
Those results, along with other compelling evidence including evidence of police misconduct, convinced Meade Circuit Judge Bruce Butler to vacate Hardin’s and Clark’s convictions in July, grant a new trial and to release them on bail the following month.
Jeffrey Clark at 2016 hearing. Aaron Borton/ Innocence Project
Unfortunately, Meade Commonwealth’s Attorney David Michael Williams appealed the judge’s new trial order and then went one step further.
In September, after appealing the new trial order on the murder vacatur, the commonwealth brought new kidnapping charges against Hardin and Clark based on the same 1992 crime and a perjury charge against Clark. But the men’s attorneys argue in their motion to dismiss the charges that the prosecution is unconstitutionally retaliating against Clark and Hardin for exercising their legal right to appeal their 1995 murder conviction and for winning that appeal.
Innocence Project Co-Founder and Co-Director Barry Scheck told the Courier-Journal, it’s disturbing that the commonwealth has “ ‘upped the ante’ by charging both men for the first time with kidnapping.”
Defendents’ families embrace at hearing in summer 2016. Aaron Borton/ Innocence Project
In a separate motion, the attorneys have petitioned for Assistant Attorney General Perry Ryan to be barred from prosecuting the case against Hardin and Clark given that he—the prosecutor who has been working on these cases for over two decades—testified and served as a witness before the grand jury that came back with the new indictments.
A pre-trial conference is set for Tuesday.