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Kentucky Judge Dismisses 1992 Murder Indictments of Two Men Based on New DNA Testing and Evidence of Police Misconduct

By Innocence Staff

Photo by Christina Paige.

Keith Hardin and Jeff Clark Wrongly Served More Than 20 Years for Crimes They Didn’t Commit

(February 26, 2018 – Louisville, KY) On the motion of the Kentucky Attorney General, today a Kentucky judge dismissed the 1992 murder indictments of Garr Keith Hardin and Jeffrey Dewayne Clark based on DNA testing and evidence of police misconduct proving their innocence.  The two men served more than 20 years before their convictions were vacated and they were released in 2016.

“The struggle for justice has been long and painful for Mr. Hardin and Mr. Clark who served more than 20 years and whom the Commonwealth twice threatened with the death penalty for a crime they did not commit,” said Seema Saifee, a staff attorney with the Innocence Project, which is representing Hardin.  “We are grateful to Assistant Attorney General Jon Heck for his willingness to review this case with an open mind and for moving to dismiss these indictments that cannot be defended. We are also especially grateful for the tremendous courage of Judge Bruce Butler who has given these men the opportunity to rebuild their lives and become the productive members of society they have been denied so long.”    

Amy Robinson Staples of the Exoneration Project, which represents Clark alongside the Kentucky Innocence Project, added, “We hope the pain and suffering that these two men endured will inspire widespread criminal justice reform in Kentucky.  The injustice that occurred in this case is partially attributed to the false and manufactured statement by a jailhouse informant who was incentivized by law-enforcement officials. Despite efforts over multiple years to address the primary causes of wrongful conviction, including eyewitness misidentification, false confessions and unregulated informant testimony, Kentucky has not taken definitive action to ensure uniform adoption of reforms that would prevent future miscarriages of justice. Kentucky has had at least 12 wrongful convictions in the past three decades, yet has taken no meaningful steps to prevent other innocent people from suffering the same fate as Mr. Hardin and Mr. Clark.”

“The struggle for justice has been long and painful for Mr. Hardin and Mr. Clark who served more than 20 years and whom the Commonwealth twice threatened with the death penalty for a crime they did not commit.” Saifee

Keith Hardin and Jeffrey Clark were convicted in 1995 of fatally stabbing 19-year-old Rhonda Sue Warford and dumping her body in a field. 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 from the victim’s hand did not match either Hardin or Clark.

Innocence Project Staff Attorney Seema Saifee, Keith Hardin, and Jeffrey Clark moments after exoneration. Photo by Christina Paige.

At trial, the state relied on the testimony of a jailhouse informant who claimed that Clark confessed to the crime. 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. Shortly after the verdict, Hardin and Clark moved for a new trial based on this letter proving that the jailhouse informant committed perjury. However, the 1995 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 Detective Mark Handy. 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.

In moving to dismiss the indictments on February 8, 2018 the Attorney General acknowledged that Det. Handy’s claim that Hardin stated that he wanted to commit human sacrifices is no longer credible. The motion noted that Handy was investigated for falsifying the confession of Edwin Chandler, who served 10 years in prison for a murder he did not commit, and concluded, “Put bluntly, the Commonwealth cannot put credibility into an unrecorded statement taken by a detective who has a documented history of fabricating details of a murder case in his investigative summaries.”  

Hardin speaks at press conference alongside attorney Seema Saifee following his exoneration. Photo by Christina Paige.

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 previously 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 blood on the cloth that the prosecution claimed was deposited during a Satanic animal sacrifice. The testing revealed that the blood was in fact Hardin’s own blood, as he truthfully testified at trial.

Based on the DNA evidence, and the new evidence that Det. Handy was recommended for a criminal investigation for his misconduct in another wrongful conviction case, Meade County Circuit Court Judge Bruce Butler vacated Hardin’s and Clark’s convictions in July 2016 and later released them on bail. The prosecution appealed the court’s decision to the Supreme Court of Kentucky, which affirmed the Circuit Court’s decision to vacate the convictions.

Shortly after the men were granted a new trial, the Commonwealth indicted the men on new charges of kidnapping, which the state believed would have enabled the prosecution to seek the death penalty, as well as perjury, because the men, after wrongly serving years in prison for the crime, made incriminating statements to the parole board in the hope of being released.  The Circuit Court later found these new charges to be a result of prosecutorial vindictiveness.

“We hope the pain and suffering that these two men endured will inspire widespread criminal justice reform in Kentucky.” Staples

Before those new charges were dismissed with prejudice by the Circuit Court last month, the Attorney General’s office agreed to reinvestigate the case, resulting in the February 8th motion asking that the murder indictments be dismissed.  Hardin and Clark were surrounded by family and other exonerees when that motion was granted today.

Linda Smith, former supervising attorney of the Kentucky Innocence Project said, “This case raises serious questions of government misconduct.  Attorney General Andy Beshear has called for a review of other cases handled by Det. Handy, which is a good first step in bringing accountability for the injustice that these men endured.”

In addition to the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law, Hardin is represented by Larry Simon, Esq. of Louisville and the law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP. Clark is represented by the Kentucky Innocence Project and Amy Staples and Elliot Slosar of the Exoneration Project.  

An Amazon wish list has been set up for Keith Hardin.  Those wishing to help Hardin as he begins to rebuild his life can make a contribution here.

Job leads for Mr. Hardin and Mr. Clark in the Kentucky and Indiana area would be greatly appreciated. Please contact us at [email protected].

7 Comments

  1. Timothy Kendall

    Bravo to the organization, and best wishes to the two most recent exonerees. The IP is at the absolute top of my contribution list, and will remain there.

    While I understand the “wish list” idea, I am appalled that it is through Amazon. I would no more participate in anything related in any way to Amazon than I would in anything related to the Trump Industries. Amazon is a destructive, slave-based organization and should not be used, in my estimation.

    I will continue the modest monthly contributions I’ve been making; the IP gets a contribution before any other organization or any candidate does. Use it for Amazon if you absolutely must. But I am NOT HAPPY about that.

    PS: Entering a Zip Code such as 20170-5421 (my real, actual Zip Code) should NOT elicit an error message saying “Please enter a number”. If your programmers can’t “swallow” a hyphen, say so. Lots of them can’t. But this error message is worthless.

  2. Sherri Sssss

    I’m Grateful for the hardwork of the innocence projects across the U.S., hopefully the state will reimburse these men as other states do. Someone i love is in prison, wish I could afford to prove his innocence.

  3. Louie McClellan

    Re: released from prison on bail, each having served more than 20 years of a life sentence for a 1992 murder they did not commit. (Bail? really?…for a murder they did not commit… big sigh…bail is used to ensure the defendant shows up in court… they say. If a person is innocent and not being charged for a new offense…why are they on bail? Big sigh…here is an excerpt a song by thrash metal band Megadeth called “kick the Chair”
    Justice means nothing today
    Now that the courts are for sale
    Pick a crime from the menu; pick a sentence and defend you
    And pay up the down payment called bail
    The system’s for sale

    Justice means nothing today
    Now that the jury’s for sale
    Guilty or not, the verdict’s a lie
    You’re going to jail
    The system has failed

    And these are highly educated attorneys who represent innocent victims. The Criminal ‘Injustice’ System is so broken. Here is a sample of:
    My Philosophy of Criminal Law and Procedure
    And It’s Effect upon the Convicted and Incarcerated

    Even though the law school notions about the adversarial system being just, and searching for the truth. . .it is well known the courts are a farce and sham (see “Why Innocent People Plead Guilty” by Jed S. Rakoff (Federal Judge). The justice system produced at least 33,000 false felony convictions annually.
    Also Cf. California Penal Code. 1054 (a) to promote the ascertainment of truth in trials by requiring timely pretrial discovery).

    Our system of criminal law is based on plea bargaining ( See People v. Orin (1975) 13 C. 3d 937, 942, 120 C.R. 65, 533 P.2d 193) Just as surely as our trial system discourages honesty and remorse from suspects, it discourages forgiveness and rehabilitation (See People v. Johnson (1978) 82 Cal. App. 3d 183, 147 Cal. Rptr. 55 Also, ( McCarthy v. United States (1969) 394 U.S. 459, 89 S.Ct. 1166, 22 L. Ed. 2d 418

    My view: Since the trial system failed, the United States system of jurisprudence has been broken beyond repair. Also, if the funds were available to progress the prison industrial complex and county jails, the courts and legislature do not want to appear ‘soft on crime’ (is a misnomer, a more apt term is ‘smart on crime’) and that is why our government/House Judiciary does not want to emulate Norway’s criminal system of jurisprudence and penology. The United States rational for jurisprudence and penology is apathetic, vindictive, archaic, and draconian. Though Americans make up about only 4.6 percent of the world’s population, American prisons hold 22 percent of all incarcerated people. I concur with the creed of Dostoyevsky “The degree of a civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons”
    There is a creed in jail/prison that states: “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime”. My creed of the United States Criminal Justice System is: “Be prepared to do the time, even if you did not commit a crime” (see Morrissey v. Brewer and other progeny).

    Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471, 484, 92 S.Ct. 2593, 33 L. Ed. 2d 484 (1972) and its progeny may be the precedent case law on Pardon and Parole. The opinions are sound and just. However, the case points and authorities are archaic (see Morrissey under 2608, 497, 8, 2609, 499, 8 states: If a violation of a condition of parole is involved rather than the commission of a new offense, there should not be an arrest of the parolee and his return to prison or jail. As Judge Skelly Wright said in Hyser v. Reed, 115 App. D.C. 254, 291, 318 F. 2d
    (concurring in part and dissenting in part) : “where serious violations of parole have been committed, the parolee will have been arrested by local or federal authorities on charges stemming from those violations. Where the violation of parole is not serious, no reason appears why he should be incarcerated before a hearing. And under Morrissey at 2609, 11: The rule of law is important in the stability of society. Arbitrary actions in the revocation of paroles can only impede and impair the rehabilitative aspects of modern penology. “Notice and opportunity for hearing appropriate to the nature of the case,” Boddie v. Connecticut, 401 U. S. 371, 378, are the rudiments of due process which restore faith that our society is run for the many, not the few, and that fair dealing rather than caprice will govern the affairs of men.
    Also under Morrissey at 2610,13 : The American Correctional Association states in its Manual of Correctional Standards 279 (3d ed. 1966) that: “To an even greater extent than in the case of imprisonment, probation and parole practice is determined by an administrative discretion that is largely uncontrolled by legal standards, protections, or remedies. (this matter was not adjudicated until 2013 see the Criminal Justice Realignment Act (CJRA) and even the courts are not justly adjudicating this subject; see my case Dock No.00521PA / Habeas Corpus Case No.174623 .
    Until statutory and case law are more fully developed, it is vitally important within all of the correctional fields that there should be established and maintained reasonable norms and remedies against the sorts of abuses that are likely to develop where men have great power over their fellows and where relationships may become both mechanical and arbitrary.” News-flash! They are: Parole and probation violators are still being returned to jail! see also Rikers Island and the Los Angeles Co. jail corruption/conviction cases and other progeny).

    My view: penological interest in the United States are not rehabilitative and the legislature and courts see retributive justice as a form of rehabilitation, whereas the sentence is a process of treatment. The crux is; this form of punishment is not rehabilitative (see Lyndon B. Johnson’s ‘war on crime’ 1967 report “The Challenge of Crime in a Free Society” expressed concern that many correctional institutions were detrimental to rehabilitation : ‘Life in many institutions are at best barren and futile, at worst unspeakably brutal and degrading…”The conditions in which they live are the poorest possible preparation for their successful re-entry into society, and often merely reinforce in them a pattern of manipulation and destructiveness”. Also, Barker v Wingo, 407 US at 520 [lengthy exposure to conditions in local jail while awaiting trial is destructive and makes rehabilitation more difficult]).
    So true! the institutional conditions of confinement and architectural design produce a very negative emotional outlook upon the inmates. The noise, filth, and unhealthy food and indoor air pollution are rancid and detrimental. Not to mention the infantile mindset of most inmates. I am forced to do all of my time in Administrative Segregation (Ad. Seg.) due to me being unwilling to submit/conform to jailhouse politics. The TV volume is always blasting and commissary nor the deputies will provide ear plugs. I hate TV; pure torture for me. I felt nothing but pure hatred for inmates and deputies. At the state prison level resources and opportunities are far less than at the federal level. It also depends at what classification level an inmate is.
    Forty five years later and statutory/constitutional law still remains draconian, vindictive, archaic, arcane, and biased. How so? The courts refusal to enforce Morrissey v. Brewer, The Legislator enacting (Sen. Com. on Judiciary, Analysis of Assem. Bill No. AB971 (Jones-Costa Reg. Sess. February 17, 1994 and the mandatory minimum sentences of the ( Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Sentencing and Punishment West’s Key Digest 1200-1219 ) “tough on crime policies,, longer sentences, Three Strikes Reform Act, “Victims Bill of Rights Act of 2008: “Marsy’s Law” see section 2 (4) ; Cal. Penal Code 17.5 (2)(4)(5)(6)(7)(8) ; the Criminal Justice Realignment Act (CJRA) and its progeny. These ruthless and inhumane laws have caused so much monetary damage to the U.S. courts and society. Even many prosecutors concede them to be draconian. There are nearly 6 million people on probation or parole and the justice system produced at least 33,000 false felony convictions annually. And sadly, case law, statutory law, and penology have lacked progressiveness. The crux of the subject is hence the axiom: self-policing does not work and power corrupts. Cal. Pen.C 3056 and its progeny are a doctrine of judicial restraint that has had a profoundly negative affect upon my life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. I am considered diminished and unworthy to society. As author Tracy Kidder states in “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson : “Our American criminal justice system has become an instrument of evil”.

  4. Pachuco Grande

    Amazon complaints aside this is truly a worthy and happy day. As the USA begins to wake up to the years of injustice and corruption my prayer is that the system will finally get the message. As a digital forensics examiner I have been involved in two exonerations and I feel blessed to have had that opportunity. Ryan Ferguson and few years ago and now, Greg Kelley, a few months ago. In both cases the police made serious errors and I belive purposeful, conscious acts to make sure the person they thought was guilty was convicted truth be damned. Until we can eliminate cops like that we will never have a righteous system.

    Go in peace Keith and Jeffery. At the risk of being labeled a slave driver I will jump over to Amazon and make a contribution there too.

    Vaya con Dios Hombres
    Pachuco

  5. Patricia Brauer

    So happy for these two men to finally get their freedom. Such a shame that something like this can happen…how do you give someone back their lives? It can never be given back and this sort of thing is what gives the justice system a bad name. So sorry this happened to them but glad they had attorneys willing to fight for them.

  6. Colleen McMahon

    Thank you!
    Please do what you can to get Handy off the streets.

  7. ronnie wells

    I worked at green river correctional complex and I am so happy jeff clark finally was released. 20 years for a innocent man, that’s a heck of a mistake. I know jeff will make the most of this opportunity. Good luck in all you do jeff.

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