LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Former Gov. Matt Bevin pardoned Keith West, who had been convicted of killing two people following an investigation by a since disgraced police detective.
A Louisville judge recently refused to overturn West’s two 1997 manslaughter convictions even though the lead detective, Mark Handy, has been indicted for tampering with evidence in West’s case.
Bevin wrote on Dec. 9 that he was granting West a “full and unconditional pardon” ‘and restoring all his rights as a citizen.
Handy, meanwhile, is also facing a perjury charge and his investigations are the focus of multiple wrongful imprisonment lawsuits.
West is the fourth person with a conviction involving Handy to be exonerated.
"Keith West finally has his name back," said Elliot Slosar, one of West's attorneys. "Governor Bevin had the courage to do what countless judges failed to do: take a deep look at the evidence in this case and come to the conclusion that he was wrongfully convicted. We could not be more grateful for his decision."
But special prosecutor Terry Geoghegan, out of Nelson County, called the pardon "astonishing."
Geoghegan said he didn't think "Bevin reviewed (the case) whatsoever," pointing out in comparison that West had been convicted by a jury who heard the evidence, had his conviction upheld by the state Court of Appeals and had his request for a new trial denied.
"I feel very bad for the family of the two folks murdered, both of which were shot twice in the back of the head," Geohegan said in an interview.
Geoghegan pointed out that Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Olu Stevens recently heard all of the evidence and rightfully denied a new trial for West.
But West's attorneys said after Stevens' "shockingly denied" a new trial in October, they sought a pardon from Bevin.
Stevens ruled that West and his attorneys already had evidence of Handy's alleged misconduct and decided to plead guilty anyway.
"There is little doubt that, at trial, the Defendant could have used Detective Handy's actions in other cases to attack the credibility of the investigation in this case," Stevens ruled. "...Yet he chose to forgo his claims of self-defense and misconduct on the part" of Handy and pleaded guilty.
West was initially charged and convicted of two counts of murder after a double shooting in west Louisville in 1992. That case was thrown out on a technicality.
Facing another trial and possible conviction, West took an Alford plea to two counts of manslaughter in 1997, meaning he maintained his innocence but acknowledged there was enough evidence for a jury to convict him. West claims that he killed the men in self-defense because they were planning to rape him. He served seven years in prison.
During hearings to get his plea thrown out this year, West's attorneys argued that Handy taped over recordings of two eyewitness statements and coerced them into specific testimony prior to trial.
Last year, Handy was indicted on charges of perjury and tampering with evidence. The tampering with evidence charges stem from Handy's alleged actions during the West case.
The perjury charges is related to Handy's testimony and role in the 1995 murder case against Edwin Chandler.
Chandler spent nine years in prison for the murder, which a court later found he did not commit. He was exonerated in 2012. Metro Government went on to pay him $8.5 million.
West's attorney, Elliot Slosar, said during hearings that West's case and Chandler's case were similar in that they both involved misconduct by Handy. However, Judge Stevens disagreed.
"The defendant cites Detective Handy's actions that contributed to the wrongful convictions of Edwin Chandler, Jeffrey Clark and Keith Hardin," wrote Judge Stevens in his October 8th order. "This case is distinguishable from the cases of those individuals. In the Chandler case, someone other than the defendant, Percy Phillips, committed the criminal act in question."
Slosar said the ruling was disappointing and has since filed an appeal.
“Keith West has never gotten justice in Jefferson County," Slosar said. "In some ways, this ruling is just a continuation of that injustice."
He did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment on Thursday morning.
Commonwealth's Attorney Tom Wine said he had no comment as his office had been removed from the case.
Handy also played a central role in the investigation of two "satanic ritual" killings in Meade County. Jeffrey Clark and Keith Hardin were convicted for the 1995 murder of Rhonda Sue Warford. But then, in 2016, a judge threw out the conviction and the men were released
Clark and Hardin have since filed a federal lawsuit and accuse Mark Handy of working with former Meade County Sheriff Joseph Greer, and others, to create a “false theory” that Clark and Hardin murdered Warford in a Satanic ritual killing.
When Handy failed to get the men to confess after falsely telling them they had failed a polygraph, Handy “simply fabricated inculpatory statements,” including that Clark admitted sacrificing animals as part of a Satanic ritual and later decided that he wanted to “do a human,” according to the lawsuit that is still pending.
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