Aug 15, 2016

Pair in supposed Satanic murder are freed

The Courier-Journal

Andrew Wolfson

August 15, 2016


They are 46 and 47 years old, but until Monday, neither Jeffrey Clark nor Garr Hardin had ever used a cellphone. They were serving life in prison for murder.

After 21 years behind bars for a murder that a judge found police and prosecutors wrongly linked to Satan worship, they were released on bond from Meade County Jail.

In separate interviews – Clark on his lawyer’s cell and Hardin on his sister’s – they said they were overwhelmed with emotions and with the sight and sounds of so many things that were new.

“You always dream of this day – especially when you didn’t do nothing, and now this day is here," Clark said. “I am joyful that the truth is finally coming out, but I am upset it took so long.”

Over the objection of Commonwealth’s Attorney David Michael Williams, Judge Bruce T. Butler set bail Monday morning at $50,000 for both men  – whose convictions he vacated last month  – and said they could be released if they posted 10 percent of it.

Clark’s lawyer, Linda A. Smith, supervising attorney of the Kentucky Innocence Project, said she was thrilled that the men were released, while Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project in New York, which represented Hardin, said: “This is a big step on our long road to justice.”

Butler wrote in an order July 14 that he found 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. He also said newly available DNA testing shows that prosecutors and police erred in the pair’s 1995 trial when they said a hair found on Warford’s sweatpants was a “microscopic match” with Hardin.

Williams, who opposed the DNA test, says he wants to retry both men and has filed a notice he will appeal the judge’s order.

Smith, who hoped that the commonwealth would dismiss the charges altogether, said the men's release on bond is “three-quarters of a victory” because she said there is virtually no evidence left against them and she is confident that the Kentucky Court of Appeals will affirm Butler’s order.

Hardin's sister, Vickie Howser, said her brother’s release was “bittersweet” because their mother died last year.

She said she offered to buy him pizza, but that he wasn't hungry. "He's got butterflies," she said.

Hardin, who turned 47 Saturday, said he wasn't angry and thanked Butler for his ruling. "I am just glad this is finally coming to an end," he said, adding that he would like to get his life straightened out and spend time with his family. Howser, one of this three sisters, lives in Brandenburg and she said he will live with her.

Clark, whose family lives in Indiana and Florida, planned to stay in a hotel Monday night but said he doesn't know where he'll go next because the bonds require that both men to stay in Kentucky.

He said he is looking forward to time with his daughters and grandchildren but laments all the years he spent "fighting lies"  – and that prosecutors spent so many years fighting against the DNA tests that led Butler to set the convictions aside.

Williams, the commonwealth's attorney, didn't return a call Monday seeking comment.

Warford, 19, who lived in southern Louisville, disappeared on April 1, 1992. She told her mother that day that a strange man who was old and "dirty looking" had followed her, shouting that he wanted to marry her and to 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 on Hardin after Warford’s mother told them she had been dating Hardin, that he was friends with Clark and that all three had been dabbling in Satanic practices.

Police searched Hardin’s home and found a Satanic bible and other books as well as a wash cloth soaked in blood, which turned out to be Hardin’s.

In his ruling last month, Butler said the DNA evidence also showed that then-Commonwealth’s Attorney Kenton Smith, who tried the case, was wrong when he told the jury that a broken cup seized from Hardin's bedroom was a "chalice" from which both defendants drank the blood of ritually sacrificed animals to enhance their standing with “Lucifer.” Smith had told the jury Hardin lied when he claimed he had cut his hand when he dropped a cup. The judge said the DNA tests showed that the blood was from Hardin, not an animal, and that Clark was telling the truth.

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."

Judge Butler 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.

Defending the convictions, Williams noted that Hardin admitted before the Kentucky Parole Board that he stabbed Warford and was involved with Satanism. He also implicated Clark. But Butler said that offenders are forced to take responsibility for the crimes they did not commit in order to win parole.

The appeal of Butler’s order could take a year or more.

Kentucky is one of 20 states with no laws providing compensation for wrongfully incarcerated inmates. People can sue for wrongful incarceration but only after all charges against them are dismissed.

Reporter Andrew Wolfson can be reached at (502) 581-7189 or


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