Judge throws out “satanic” murder convictions after new evidence suggests two men weren’t killers
The murder convictions of two Kentucky men have been thrown out after new evidence was discovered in their cases.
Garr Keith Hardin and Jeffrey DeWayne Clark will get new trials after a judge found there was no credible evidence that the killing of Rhonda Sue Warford was related to satanic worship. The Kentucky Supreme Court upheld the ruling.
The two men were released on bail last month, twenty-one years after being sentenced to life in prison.
During the 1995 trial prosecutors told jurors that a broken cup that had been found in Hardin’s bedroom was a “chalice” used by both Hardin and Clark to drink animals blood to improve their standing with the devil. Hardin said he cut his hand and dropped the cup, breaking it. DNA testing found no animal blood on the cup, only Hardin’s. During the 1995 trial prosecutors also said a hair found on Warford’s sweatpants was Hardin’s, but recent DNA testing revealed it was not Hardin’s hair.
“This court concludes that the newly discovered evidence is substantial,” Circuit Judge Bruce T. Butler wrote in his ruling throwing out the convictions, “and of such decisive value or force that it would, with reasonable certainty, have changed the verdict.”
“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.
Butler also expressed doubt about the honesty of former Louisville police detective Mark Handy, who testified that Hardin told him that he got “tired of looking at animals and began to want to do human sacrifices.”
The judge said there was no evidence to support that claim, and Louisville police had determined that Handy had lied in a different case in 1995 when he claimed the defendant admitted to the crime. That defendant, Edwin Chandler, was convicted of manslaughter and first-degree robbery and spent nine years in prison before being paroled. In 2009 he was officially exonerated and won an $8.5 million settlement from the city of Louisville. Handy was never prosecuted, although the police who investigated him recommended it.
Prosecutors with the office of Meade County Commonwealth Attorney David Michael Williams opposed DNA testing on the hair, saying that DNA testing should only be done for defendants on Death Row, but the Kentucky Supreme Court ordered the testing over their objections because the duo were convicted based on “highly circumstantial evidence.”
Williams is expected to retry the case, although attorneys for the Kentucky Innocence Project, which represented the two men, said the charges against both men should be dropped and also complained that police were seeking to retry them as part of a vendetta.
“It is gratifying that justice is being done, but it is bittersweet,” said Linda Smith, director of the Kentucky Innocence Project. “It has been a horrific nightmare for them.”