LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – A corrupt former Louisville police detective is asking a judge to throw out a wrongful conviction lawsuit, claiming a recent court ruling over ex-Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin’s pardons applies to the suit against him as well.
Keith West has filed suit against former detective Mark Handy, who pleaded guilty in March to tampering with physical evidence in West’s two 1997 manslaughter convictions. Bevin pardoned West before he left office in late 2019.
But Handy’s lawyers contend that Bevin’s pardon does not mention that West is innocent or that the conviction should be erased – an argument that was used successfully in a similar case this year.
In that case, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit this summer brought by a woman pardoned by Bevin after finding that a pardon itself doesn’t invalidate a criminal conviction. That ruling has been appealed to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.
At issue is the language of Bevin’s pardons and whether the appeals court will rule that the woman, Johnetta Carr, can file a wrongful conviction lawsuit.
As part of Carr’s lawsuit filed last year against the city and several Louisville police officers, she noted that Bevin pardoned her in December 2019 “because of her actual innocence.”
But despite Carr’s claims that there is plenty of evidence pointing to her innocence in the 2005 slaying of her boyfriend when she was 16, Bevin’s pardon simply restored her rights as a citizen and noted that Carr was a good person and “God clearly has his hand on her.”
In July, U.S. District Judge Charles Simpson declined “to find that the mere issuance of a pardon, without language that questions or discredits a judicial finding of guilt, appropriately invalidates a criminal conviction,” according to the ruling. The suit was dismissed.
However, the judge acknowledged that the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled on the same issue previously and found that any gubernatorial pardon, regardless of reason, does indeed lift restrictions for the filing of a wrongful conviction lawsuit.
Elliot Slosar, a Chicago-based attorney who represents West and Carr, said the law regarding whether a lawsuit can be filed based on a pardon is largely settled in other parts of the country and the ruling in the Carr case was simply a way for the Sixth Circuit to create its own precedent.
He also criticized the motion to dismiss West’s lawsuit, which also was brought by Louisville Metro government. The judge in that case has not ruled on the motion to dismiss.
“Everyone is familiar by now with Louisville Metro's attempts to avoid accountability and responsibility for the egregious misconduct that Mr. Handy committed,” Slosar said.
While pardons have previously been used as proper grounds for wrongful termination lawsuits, in those instances governors cited evidence, such as DNA test results, or specifically ordered the conviction be erased or set aside, according to Simpson’s ruling.
Bevin’s pardon of Carr, who spent two years in prison after being convicted of second-degree manslaughter in 2008, does not indicate a “finding of innocence, the expungement of her criminal record, or an intent to obliterate her conviction,” the ruling concludes.
In Carr’s pardon, like many of the former governor’s pardons, Bevin does not discuss the case much at all.
Instead, Bevin describes her as a “strong and highly motivated woman with a bright future” who will “contribute in powerful ways to society as a whole and to those in her community specifically. God clearly has His hand on her.”
Bevin’s more than 650 pardons or commutations drew national criticism, rebuke from both Democrats and Republicans and prompted an FBI investigation.
Most recently, Patrick Baker, who was pardoned by Bevin and released from prison for a 2014 slaying of a drug dealer, was found guilty by a federal grand jury of murder in the same case.
The Courier-Journal reported in Dec. 2019 that some of Bevin’s pardons provided no explanation - or were “infused with religious language” – despite Kentucky’s constitution requiring a governor to include a “statement for his decision.”
In the West case, Bevin wrote he was granting a “full and unconditional pardon” and restoring his rights as a citizen.
Handy, who pleaded guilty in March, in part, to tampering with physical evidence in West’s two 1997 manslaughter convictions, argues that Bevin’s pardon does not mention West is innocent or that the conviction should be erased.
The judge’s ruling in Carr’s case shows “the law is clear that West’s conviction has not been invalidated,” attorney Kent Wicker argued in a motion last month.
U.S. District Judge Greg Stivers has not yet ruled on the motion.
Handy also pleaded guilty to perjury in the wrongful conviction of Edwin Chandler, who spent nearly a decade in prison for a murder he didn't commit after Handy lied to a jury in his 1995 murder trial.
While Handy was sentenced to one year in prison, he spent only a few weeks incarcerated before the Kentucky Department of Corrections moved him to its electronic monitoring program earlier this year.
West served about seven years in prison and “lost decades of his life due to the egregious misconduct of (former Det. Mark Handy) and others in the Louisville Police Department," according to his suit.
The lawsuit argues that Handy taped over recordings of two eyewitness statements and coerced them into specific testimony prior to trial.
In her lawsuit, Carr claimed she was 16 when police accused her of murdering her boyfriend and that during the course of the investigation, detectives fabricated and coerced witnesses into saying that she was involved with his murder.
Planes Adolphe, Carr's boyfriend at the time, was found strangled to death on October 23, 2005, outside of his Louisville apartment on Kingston Ave. His wallet and cab that he drove for work was stolen. He was 36.
Detectives arrested Carr and charged her with murder in January 2006. She was indicted as an adult in April 2006.
In May 2008, Carr entered an Alford plea to second-degree manslaughter in the case meaning she maintained her innocence but acknowledged that prosecutors could convict her.
She was sentenced to 20 years in prison but was released on parole in December 2009. Her parole was completed in 2018.
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