LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A judge has dismissed charges against two men who were convicted in the death of a woman as part of a "Satanic ritual" more than 25 years ago. 

On Monday morning, Meade Circuit Judge Bruce Butler dismissed the charges against Jeffrey Clark and Keith Hardin at the request of prosecutors.

Following the hearing, Hardin could barely speak when asked to describe his emotions.

"Overwhelming right now," Hardin said.

Clark was emotional as well, sometimes fighting back tears.

"It's something I'll never get over. But, you know, I'm free now," he said.

The Hardin and Clark were convicted of killing Rhonda Warford in 1992 as part of a Satanic ritual, and sentenced to more than 20 years in prison. New DNA evidence and accusations that  investigators framed the pair led the Kentucky Supreme Court to vacate the convictions.

After special prosecutor Jon Heck chose not to pursue a new trial, this was the final step. 

"I feel so many different things at once," said Hardin.

"A lot of people ask me why I ain't so bitter," said Clark. "I'm bitter, but I'm not going to let it destroy the rest of my life."

For Hardin's sister's, Ginny Peak and Vickie Howser, this was the end of a family ordeal.

"We are so happy to have our brother back," said Peak. "It's a miracle. We never thought it would happen."

They said their only regret is that their mother did not live to see the her son cleared. She died in 2015.

"She'd be crying so hard, and she wouldn't let Keith go," said Peak. 

Hardin and Clark did not get everything they wanted. The judge dismissed the case without prejudice, meaning charges could be filed later if new evidence surfaces.

But attorney Larry Simon of the Innocence Project, which took up the case, said that is very unlikely.

It's dismissed. This case is over with," said Simon. "I don't see anything that would indicate that these two men would ever be re-tried."

In 2017, Clark and Hardin filed federal wrongful conviction lawsuits against Metro Government, several Louisville police officers, Meade County and other officials, claiming they were framed by police. That case is pending.

With the two men now cleared, the mystery of who killed Rhonda Sue Warford remains.

"I've lost my life for something that I didn't do, and being innocent. Somebody out there did it, and they need to be held accountable," said Clark.

Both Hardin and Clark said they do not know what they will do next. But for the first time in 26 years, they are free to do whatever they want.

 

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