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Kentucky Court Vacates Murder Convictions of Two Men Based on New DNA and Evidence of Police Fabrication and Misconduct

By Paul Cates

Contact: Paul Cates, 212-364-5346[email protected]

(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.

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19 Comments

  1. Gentlemen,
    In Phoenix, Arizona recently, there was a death penalty murder case, where the entire case against a young mother was completely fabricated by a rogue police detective, who claimed she “confessed” to him that she had arranged the murder of her 5-year old son for insurance money. NO insurance money was ever paid out in the little boy’s death. She was convicted and sentenced to death in 1990 SOLELY on the basis of his testimony, despite the fact that there was NO written, or taped, or video record of her alleged “confession”, nor any witnesses to it, either. The defendant steadfastly denied ever confessing to anyone, and asserted her innocence during 25 years of imprisonment on death row, where she endured incredible abuse from other inmates. She came close to execution by lethal injection. After repeated appeals through the State and Federal Courts, she was finally exonerated by the 9th Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, where the chief judge wrote a blistering, 60 page decision exonerating her, and blasted the Metro Phoenix PD and the State Court trial judge, who allowed such flimsy, fabricated evidence against her in the first place. Last year(2015), Debra Milke was formally exonerated of all charges in the murder of her little boy, and released from 25 years confinement on death row. The two men who did kill her son confessed to the crime, and their WRITTEN confessions were signed, witnessed, and filmed as part of the court record of their guilt in 1991. The two murderers were both sentenced to death, and await execution in the Arizona State prison. WHY was Debra Milke treated DIFFERENTLY and WORSE than the two men who actually killer her little son?? The rogue police detective who framed her at trial in 1990 had a record of doing this to about TEN previous defendants. Yet, he was allowed to remain on the Phoenix PD, where he also framed Debra onto death row. After Debra’s exoneration in 2015, this rogue detective was allowed to retire in good standing. To this day, he has NEVER faced any charges for his documented misconduct in framing at least ten innocent people. This is why egregious police/prosecutor misconduct continues, until THEY pay a price for framing and destroying innocent lives, while the REAL criminals continue to commit serious crimes with impunity. The Innocence Project is the ONLY agency seriously involved in challenging our incredibly destructive (in)justice system. May God bless the Innocence Project as our only voice in the wilderness crying out for justice and redress. Thanks for listening. Best Regards.

    • cc

      Ohmygoodness!? Then people wonder why some thoroughly mistrust the police (anywhere & everywhere), as well as our justice system!! Apparently, if one for not have extensive resources they remain in very tenuous positions. Dear Lord, help us.

  2. Ginny Peak

    This is my brother their talking about. And I always knew he was innocent. The bad thing is. He went in a young man. And coming out a old man. His whole life was taken away. Thanks to the innocent project proving he was innocent. And thank you to the judge that was involved in my brothers case. He did what other people should have done. But the main thing is. Me and my sister will get u or brother back. Now that day will be Jul of JOY and HAPPINESS.

    • I was locked up with Jeff Clark not that I’m proud to have been incarcerated but my point is after hearing his story I was really amazed as to how polite and humble he is after doing 25 yrs of innocent time, I’m glad that he is finally getting justice, it’s about time someone got over on Meade county’s corrupt justice system, Jeff is fine he’s healthy built like a machine very humble and respectful

  3. Scott

    Thank you for all you do at Innocence Project. You are all amazing and I will donate again soon.

  4. Elizabeth Bard

    Innocence Project: Thank you for the incredibly important and life saving work that you do.

  5. DeAnna Maddox

    So thankful to the Innocence Project in continuing to right the wrongs of our (in)justice system. I wonder if you have had the opportunity to look at the case of Darlie Routier. She is on Death Row in Texas and that whole case stinks of corruption, starting with the lead investigator and his not so law-abiding son apparently. I would encourage you to take a look. Thank you for your time.

  6. Rose Underwood

    Garr Keith Hardin is my brother. Our family has been without him for 24 years now. We look forward to a new trial and to both he and Jeff Clark finally being set free. We just wish our Mother had lived to see the day when Keith comes home to us. I would also like to say that our prayers go out to the Warford family and we hope that they someday they will know who took their precious Rhonda from them. Thanks to the Innocence Project of New York as well as the Innocence Project of Kentucky for their continued belief of the innocence of both Keith and Jeff.

  7. DEnglish

    In my opinion, there’s been so much of this corruption going on in Bay County Fl with there investigators , ect…….have the same reputation, and In my son’s case, we have proof of lies.The whole trial, in my opinion, was nothing but a circus of lies, lack of sound representation (ineffective, factual), and the one testimony of the perpetrator couldn’t even get his own story straight, factual……this trial makes you wonder, with all the false twists and turns, how in the hell they put my Innocent Son in prison for life! Oh, and one big reason we all feel the case with all the appeals process for 8 yrs has been denied everytime, is because that ineffective Public Defender my son had, became a Judge shortly afterwards!!!! Hmmmm, makes one wonder!!

  8. Zelma (Jody) Cochran

    On behalf of Jeff Clark’s family :

    We are grateful he and others are blessed with the Innocence Project, Supreme Court
    and Judges like Mr. Butler who are able to recognize and willing to rectify such
    errors.
    Elated that the Supreme Courts ruling has opened the door for other innocent
    People to receive the same relief / justice as Jeff & Keith has had just happen in their lives.
    Saddened By the volume of such errors across the US.
    We are praying for a much stronger system to be put into place that will enforce that
    the US Constitutional rights provided are adhered to by everyone involved.
    Media, Prosecution, Attorneys, Witnesses, Jurors, Judges, Law Enforcement
    Investigators on State and Federal levels, Appeals Courts. Accountability
    for the same.
    Heartbroken due to failure to properly investigate and follow leads in the case.
    Disallowing the guilty party or parties confinement and protection
    for others in the victims situation. Therefore allowing destruction of Jeff and his
    Families lives for so many years.
    Hoping and praying for healing and the ability to enjoy what is left of our
    lives after this horrendous nightmare. Relieved that 24 years of prayers to
    Jesus have been answered in forcing the acceptance of what was evident all
    along, his innocence.

  9. cc

    Yes, may all who are able please bless the Innocence Project now and continually! No-one ever knows who will be next!? Scary.

    It’s mind boggling that this type of thing is ever allowed to take place in our country. Adding to this the fact that it does happen, almost rampantly, across our country and one is flabbergasted. Then you find out that the truly guilty people never face or pay in any way for their wrongs, lies or conspiracies and you’re in shock. Every one of these egregious situations together with each responsible party needs to be brought out publicly, known to all and appropriately punished in such fashion as to prevent future atrocities! These innocents have had their good name, life’s work, futures, loved ones and their very lives ripped from then by terribly guilty people with filthy hands, large egos and in conspiracy many times. Nothing less should be extracted from those who’ve done this then a fitting and public payment comparable to the harm they’ve caused.

  10. Harv Levy

    Shouldn’t the ACLU take an interest in this issue. Isn’t freedom from unjust incarceration a civil right?

    • Ann Williams

      No. Those rights only apply to federal cases and if you can pay for it. Those who are poor have no rights and never have.

  11. Cheryl Guerbaoui

    It pains me so to know that those who are empowered to seek the truth would instead railroad the innocent. I cannot imagine why someone entrusted to protect the community would allow evil to run free while the innocent suffer in our broken prison system. I agree with so many others that as long as prosecutors and judges are not held accountable, nothing will change. Thank God for any and all who keep up the good fight for the innocent.

  12. zelma cochran

    Former prosecutor Kenton Smith who prosecuted this case in Meade County Kentucky, bragged during this trial that he could “convict a ham sandwich in Meade County”.
    He proved it by convicting these two. Meade counties new prosecutor David Williams has joined in the sporting event of former prosecutor Kenton Smith to see how many innocent people he can keep behind bars. Announcing that he intends to appeal the over turned convictions of these men. Whose lives and those of their loved ones were destroyed over 20 years ago. Who have served life sentences already for a crime they did not commit.
    Only a sociopath would want innocent men to be imprisoned and allow the guilty to go free.

    I say hit them where it hurts, for every day they keep innocent people in prison, fine them, personally out of their own paychecks. Every time they deny DNA testing costing tax payers money to continue to keep the truth from being known, fine them. Force their personal paychecks to pay for the housing of the innocent while in prison and their food. Force them to recompense the victims families of every one the guilty person has harmed due to their negligence in investigating the crimes.

    Winning what has became a sporting event will no longer be so attractive to them when it costs them instead of innocent parties and tax payers. There is obviously no respect for the Supreme Court, DNA testing, Judges rulings, Constitutional rights, Victims, Alibi’s, Physical Evidence at the scene or anything else. So, make them pay for it if they want to make it a game to see how many ham sandwich convictions they can win without regard to cost.

  13. June

    Thank you to the Innocence Project for all they’re doing! Jeffery Clark & Keith Hardin both deserve to be out & living life with their families, not behind bars for something they didn’t do. This case was all wrong from the beginning. And yet, 20 yrs later, they are both fighting for their innocence. It’s a shame!

  14. zelma cochran

    Prosecution and all authorities are supposed to protect and uphold constitutional rights of everyone involved, including the accused. not make their own laws and lie like dogs to defend them. The bible says “thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor” and “all liars will have their part in the lake of fire” so I sure hope they don’t think they will be excused for this.

  15. Jan

    Bunch of nastiness in Meade County PD’s past. Interesting. And that Kenton fella defending!
    http://www.wdrb.com/story/26569300/former-ksp-trooper-wants-his-case-dismissed-saying-its-unconstitutional

  16. Gregory Collins

    I have a friend named Jeremy Charles Niemer. He is incarcerated in Kentucky State Penetentiary. His is a case to look into. Talk to him and see what happened…

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