Garr Keith Hardin and Jeffrey Dewayne Clark were convicted 20 years ago in Kentucky of the stabbing death of 19-year-old Rhonda Warford.  Her body was dumped in a field called Dead Horse Hollow.  Both men were sentenced to life in prison.  New DNA testing could show that they were innocent all along.  The two men were convicted in 1995 as part of the Satanic ritual murder hysteria that swept the country.

“For over 20 years, Garr Keith Hardin and Jeffrey Dewayne Clark have lost much of their adult life serving life sentences for crimes they did not commit,” said Linda A. Smith, supervising attorney for the Kentucky Innocence Project.

The prosecution presented microscopic hair comparison evidence of hairs found at the scene.  They told the jury that they matched Hardin.  They also said that they found a cup at his home that had animal sacrifice blood on it and that it was the “chalice” used in Satanic rituals.  The men had drank blood from it.  At trial, a Louisville detective, Mark Handy, testified that Hardin told him that he’d grown tired of sacrificing animals so he graduated to people.  That detective is currently under investigation for fabricating evidence against Edwin Chandler, who was later exonerated for murder.

A prosecution expert told the jury that despite the prosecutor’s insistence that a fingerprint belonging to Warford found on Clark’s car was “fresh”, there was no way to determine when a fingerprint was deposited.  Fingerprints can remain on surfaces indefinitely. Since the trial, microscopic hair comparisons have come under intense scrutiny scientifically.

In 2013, the FBI publicly declared that all hair testimony that purports a “match” from a known to unknown hair has no scientific basis.

In addition, a jailhouse informant who told the jury that Clark confessed had written a letter to another inmate attempting to recruit him to falsify testimony against Clark and Hardin so they both could get reduced sentences.

The Innocence Project and the Kentucky Innocence Project recently filed a motion stating that DNA testing discredits that evidence and requests that the convictions of Hardin and Clark be vacated.  Hardin has long asserted his innocence and disputed his “confession” to the detective.  He also said at trial, for which the prosecution responded that he was a liar, that the cup found at his house was covered with his blood, not an animal’s.  DNA evidence confirms that it was his blood on the cup.  He had cut himself on the broken glass.  DNA evidence also shows that the hairs found at the scene identifying the men as the killers actually belong to someone else entirely.

Meade Commonwealth Attorney David Williams has already said that he will oppose overturning the convictions despite the DNA results.  Williams’ office even fought DNA testing in the first place.  In 2013, despite their staunch support against the testing, the Kentucky Supreme Court granted the defendants’ request. Williams cited Hardin’s testimony before the parole board in 2013 where he admitted to killing Warford.  Many parole boards require, both officially or in practice, that the inmate accept responsibility and express remorse for their crime before they can be considered for release.  Innocence Project Attorney Seema Saifee said it is extremely common for innocent people to accept responsibility for the crimes they didn’t commit because they don’t want to die in prison.

For example, Edwin Chandler acknowledged that he killed a Louisville convenience clerk so he could win parole.  He was later exonerated using fingerprint evidence that was not available at the time of his conviction.  She also pointed out that until 2013, Hardin expressed his innocence at every hearing, but was denied parole.

Kentucky Parole Board Chair Shannon Jones said acceptance of responsibility is not listed as an official factor in granting parole.  She said that admitting guilt is also not a requirement.

Clark maintained his innocence in his latest parole board hearing in 2014.  He was denied.

“I’m sorry for the victim’s family’s loss,” he said. “I’m sure that they hate me…But when these test results come back, I’m sure they won’t hate me no more.”

 

The Court said it was “mystified” that the government had such little interest in the DNA testing, which could on one hand prove the men are guilty and on the other hand point to the true “guilty person heretofore uncharged and…at large.”

 

Attorney General Jack Conway unsuccessfully argued that under law, DNA testing is only allowed in death penalty cases.  But the Kentucky Supreme Court decision was unanimous.

The case was “highly circumstantial” and the men had a right to DNA testing.

Innocence Project Attorney Seema Saifee and Kentucky Innocence Project Supervising Attorney Linda Smith say that they hope that Williams will join in a search for the actual killer.  Saifee, who is representing Hardin, told the Courier-Journal:

“The right thing to do is for the prosecutor to recognize that he [Hardin] was wrongly convicted…The science proves he didn’t commit this crime.”

James Whitely, a felon who is serving time for attempted murder as well as several assaults of correctional officers, confessed to several of Warford’s friends that he killed her.  Warford’s friends told a grand jury that he said that she threatened to report him for a parole violation.  Warford had previously dated Whitely.  Whitely denied the allegation in 2012.

The new DNA testing could not exclude Whitely as the killer like it could Hardin and Clark.

Warford, 19, disappeared on April 1, 1992.  She told her mother that a strange man who was “dirty looking” had been following her and harassing her, shouting that he wanted her to have his children.  Her body was found 3 days later.  She had been stabbed 11 times. The Meade County Sheriff and Louisville PD turned their attention to Hardin and Clark after Warford’s mother told the them that Hardin had previously dated her daughter and that he was friends with Clark.  She also claimed that her daughter and the two men dabbled in Satanism. No murder weapon was ever recovered and alibi witnesses testified that they were with Clark and Hardin at the time of the murder and throughout the day Warford’s body was discovered.

Hardin and Clark have been behind bars since their convictions on May 18, 1995. Hardin, 45, who is at Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex, isn’t eligible for parole until April 1, 2019, while Clark, 44, who is at Luther Luckett Correctional Complex, sees the parole board again on April 1, 2018.

Saifee said Hardin’s mother has terminal cancer and hopes to see him again as a free man.

“The public has an interest in ensuring that innocent [people] do not stay in prison and that the true assailant, who may still be at large, is brought to justice two decades after this brutal crime,” the project said in their motion.

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Comments
  1. zelma cochran says:

    If investigators truly, were using their full abilities as detectives and were willing to be unbiased. There would be less of this type of thing happening. Prosecution is fed what a investigation team gives them. They run with it. They are caught in the middle of a horrible mistake that they have now endorsed. 100%. Investigating the crime is not their job. They must rely on the detectives. To be honest, thorough and unbiased. In cases the prosecutor does not necessarily get notification of other suspects that have not been investigated. The leads belong to the detectives investigating the crime.

    It is impossible to know if the prosecutor in this case was aware of the many other suspects including calls made to crime stoppers and the sheriff’s office. That were not followed up on. Per investigators own written reports. However it is known that the accusation against Mr. Whitely was made known to prosecution who failed to order a investigation and flippantly dismissed it.

    Alibis may not be relayed to the prosecutor either as in this case due to redness on the face of the prosecutor and judge at this particular trial. When it was provided during the trial. That does not totally excuse the prosecutor but gives a insight into how this type of charge could even be placed on someone when all the physical evidence refutes the suspect as being the one they are seeking. How prosecution handles it is the final determining factor and accountability should not stop at the investigative team due to that fact. The costs involved in reversing a conviction financially and in the years it takes to do so is astounding. Tax payer dollars could be spent in better ways as well.

    This country is in dire need of monitoring cases and accountability being put in place and enforced. The numbers are staggering of such miscarriages of justice like this one. News media trials such as this one leave the innocent no hope of being found innocent. Especially when the 4 of 16 jurors who said innocent are dismissed as being alternatives. Like they were in this case. And jurors not sequestered.

    Slanderous accusations that are spread in the media across the nation, and innocent statements that are blown out of proportion contribute to wrongful convictions as well. Use of jail house snitches with something to gain from giving false testimony such as in this case, ex girlfriends with not only a axe to grind but who are trying to get a conviction to protect themselves from being testified against by the accused for child abuse and even molestation, which was later prosecuted in the same county, without the assistance of and unknowingly to the one charged and convicted in this case. So justice was done in her case despite her attempt to thwart it. This can be a major factor as well such as in this case. It is doubtful that prosecution was aware of the character witness reasons for perjury and intentional slanderous statements however it is powerful to a jury who does not know the whole situation either.

    Lack of communication between defense and prosecution must be huge. Or prosecution is unwilling to acknowledge credible alibi’s, character witnesses’ own character and motives, other suspects who are not investigated, true character of the accused by reliable law abiding citizens, physical evidence that is totally exculpatory, jail house snitch’s reasons for testifying and so forth.

    It is the duty of prosecution to bring to justice those who are guilty and keep free those who are innocent. Both are their duties. Not just one of these. Being overloaded with cases no doubt contributes to prosecutions reliance on the investigative team. However, willingness to be objective rather than defensive most especially after being proven to have had error in a case prosecuted requires a person to have the utmost respect for society as a whole. For the justice system as well. Which is in place to protect the innocent whether it be a potential suspect, the victim, or society from the true criminal. It does not appear that prosecution is always able to do that.

    The Innocence Project, KY Supreme Court currently holding office and Judge Butler who vacated the convictions recently willingness to fully investigate the case and determine the truth is a breath of fresh clean air in this case and commendable. If that were the case in all crimes the USA would truly be operating under the Constitutional rights given them by our founding fathers. And America would be a much safer place to live.

    How does one heal from serving over 20 years for a crime they did not commit and having their name and character destroyed I do not know. But Jeff Clark and his family will be busy attempting to find out as soon as the door opens to allow him to finally go free. As he deserves to do.

    Like

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