Jul 16, 2016

Alleged 'Satanic' killers win new trial

The Courier-Journal

Andrew Wolfson, @adwolfson

July 15, 2016


Twenty-one years after they were sentenced to life in prison for a murder that police and prosecutors claimed was Satanically inspired, the convictions of two men have been vacated.

A Meade Circuit judge has found there was no “credible evidence” that the murder of Rhonda Sue Warford, a Louisville woman whose body was dumped in a field, was motivated by Satanic worship.

Circuit Judge Bruce T. Butler also said the newly available DNA testing shows that prosecutors and police got it wrong in the 1995 trial of Garr Keith Hardin and Jeffrey Dewayne Clark when they said a hair found on Warford’s sweatpants was a “microscopic match” with Hardin.

“This court 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,” Butler wrote in a 24-page opinion issued Thursday.

He ordered a new trial for both men, but Linda Smith, director of the Kentucky Innocence Project, who represented Clark, said she hopes the current Meade commonwealth’s attorney, David Michael Williams, will “do the right thing and allow these men to be released.”

Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project in New York, who represented Hardin along with attorneys Larry Simon and Seema Saifee, said he believes that the “strong and powerful opinion” should rule out a retrial.

Williams did not respond to phone messages. His office opposed the DNA testing of the hair but was overruled by the Kentucky Supreme Court.

Williams' predecessor, former Meade Commonwealth's Attorney Kenton Smith, who prosecuted the case, said, "Given that both defendants have on multiple occasions admitted their involvement, I was a little surprised" by the order vacating their convictions. "I think the first jury got the case correct and the next one will, too. However the situation comes out, we have the best system of justice in the world, and I respect it."

Clark, 46, who is incarcerated at the Western Kentucky Correctional Complex, was “overjoyed” to hear his conviction had been vacated, as was his mother and daughter, Smith said. Hardin, 46, is at Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex.

They will be returned to Meade County Jail, and Williams could request that bail be set if a retrial is sought.

“It is gratifying that justice is being done, but it is bittersweet,” said Smith, a state public advocate. “It has been a horrific nightmare for them.

“Those years are gone and we can’t give them back,” she said.

The two defendants and Warford lived in Louisville.

Opposing their motion for a new trial, Williams noted that Clark admitted before the Kentucky Parole Board that he stabbed Warford and was involved with Satanism. He also implicated Hardin.

But Judge Butler said that offenders are forced to take responsibility for the crimes they did not commit in order to win parole, and he said he put little stock in Clark’s statement.

Besides the DNA testing, which proved the hair found on Warford didn’t belong to Hardin, Butler noted that the FBI in 2013 renounced microscopic hair “matches,” saying they implied “a level of certainty that exceeds the limits of science.”

The court also called into question the truthfulness of former Louisville Police Detective Mark Handy, who testified that Hardin told him during an interrogation that he had gotten “tired of looking at animals and began to want to do human sacrifices."

The judge said there was no evidence introduced at trial to support that, and that an internal Louisville police investigation found Handy engaged in misconduct in a different case when he falsely attributed incriminating statements to defendant Edwin Chandler in a murder for which he was convicted but later exonerated. Chandler, who spent nine years in prison, won an $8.5 million settlement from Louisville Metro.

Butler noted that the sergeant who investigated Handy recommended that he be criminally prosecuted. Handy never was, and Scheck on Friday urged that Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Wine’s office pursue that prosecution and audit all cases that Handy, who is now retired, investigated. Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jeff Cooke, an office spokesman, said he couldn’t immediately comment on either suggestion.

Butler said the DNA evidence also showed that Commonwealth’s Attorney Smith was wrong when he told the jury that a broken cup seized from Hardin's bedroom was a "chalice" used by both defendants to drink sacrificial animals' blood to enhance their standing with “Lucifer.” Smith told the jury Hardin lied when he claimed he had cut his hand when he dropped a cup.

But the judge said the DNA tests showed that the blood was from Hardin, not an animal.

“This court concludes that the newly discovered evidence is substantial,” Butler said, “and of such decisive value or force that it would, with reasonable certainty, have changed the verdict.”

Warford, 19, who lived in the South End, disappeared on April 1, 1992. She told her mother that day that a strange man who was old and "dirty looking" had followed her and harassed her, shouting that he wanted to marry her and have children with her.

Her body was found three days later in Meade County’s Dead Horse Hollow. She had been stabbed 11 times.

The Meade County sheriff and Louisville police turned their attention to Hardin after Warford’s mother told them she had been dating him, that he was friends with Clark and that all three had dabbled in Satanic practices.

Police searched Hardin’s home and found a Satanic bible and other books as well as a washcloth soaked in blood that turned out to be Hardin’s.


Reporter Andrew Wolfson can be reached at (502) 582-7189 or awolfson@courier-journal.com




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