LOUISVILLE, Ky., (WDRB) – Jeffrey Clark and Keith Hardin spent more than two decades in prison for a 1992 murder of a Meade County woman that was allegedly motivated by Satanic worship.
But last week, almost a year after a judge threw out the 1995 conviction, the two men filed federal wrongful conviction lawsuits against Metro Government, several Louisville police officers, Meade County and other officials, claiming they were framed by police.
The lawsuits, filed in U.S. District Court, claims Clark and Hardin were convicted based on fabricated statements they never made and forensic evidence prosecutors “wrongly” argue Hardin left behind on the victim’s body, according to the suit.
DNA evidence has now “conclusively proven that that evidence was left by another man, not Hardin or Clark,” the suits allege. A Meade County judge overturned the conviction last year based, in part, on the DNA evidence and allegations investigators had lied.
Still, Meade County prosecutors have pledged to take Clark and Hardin back to trial. The men are out on $5,000 bond.
Investigators are accused of ignoring other suspects, fabricating, destroying and concealing evidence and covering up misconduct by multiple Louisville police officers, detectives and supervisors, among others.
The lawsuit references several wrongful convictions involving Louisville police around the same time period, indicating there was a pattern by the department.
For example, Kerry Porter wrongfully served 14 years in prison before being exonerated in 2011 of the 1996 murder of Louisville truck driver Tyrone Camp. Porter has a pending lawsuit against the city and police.
Edwin Chandler received $8.5 million in 2012 after spending nine years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit.
“Here, the very same municipal customs, practices and systemic lapses in training, as well as systemic lapses in supervision and discipline, led police to arrest, maliciously prosecute, and cover up and withhold exculpatory and impeachment information from Clark and Hardin,” according to the suits.
The Louisville Metro Police Department and former Detective Mark Handy -- who was also involved in the Chandler case -- are accused of working with Meade County Sheriff Joseph Greer, and others, to create a “false theory” that Clark and Hardin murdered Rhonda Sue 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.”
The other defendants in the nearly identical lawsuits took the false confession and “falsified or distorted” more evidence to convince the prosecution and later the jury that the two men were guilty.
For example, Sheriff Greer conspired with Clark’s estranged girlfriend and a jailhouse informant to implicate him, the suits claim.
And the only physical evidence tying Clark or Hardin to the murder -- a hair found on the victim’s clothing – was “also a sham,” the suits say. A Kentucky State Police official “falsely” told prosecutors the hair matched Hardin, but DNA testing in 2014 excluded him and Clark.
Prosecutors and police have denied wrongdoing. The Louisville Metro Police Department and Metro Government do not comment on pending litigation.
Warford disappeared on April 2, 1992, and was found stabbed to death in a field in Meade County, about 50 miles from her Louisville home. Both Louisville and Mead County investigators worked the case.
Warford’s family told police that she had been dating Hardin and that he worshiped Satan. The lawsuits acknowledge that Hardin “had practiced modern Satanism, which forbids blood sacrifice and killing of any kind.”
Clark, according to the suits, never practiced Satanism.
In September 1993, a witness told a grand jury that Warford’s ex-boyfriend -- a convicted felon -- had admitted killing her. But investigators ignored the suspect and “continued to frame Clark and Hardin for a murder that they did not commit,” the suits claim.
Det. Handy and Sheriff Greer falsified statements that Hardin sacrificed animals and framed Warford’s murder as a ritual killing, according to the suits.
When Clark refused to implicate Hardin during an interrogation, according to the suits, Sheriff Green “placed a pistol on the table and said, in sum or substance, ‘You might want to reconsider that or bad things can happen.’”
Greer could not be immediately reached for comment.
In addition, the lawsuits claim that investigators “fabricated” the time of Warford’s death.
Since her body was “fresh” when she was found, indicating the murder took place on April 4, while Clark and Hardin had independent alibis, Greer asked then-Chief Medical Examiner George Nichols to change the date of the death to April 2. But a witness reported seeing Warford alive on April 3, the suit claims.
In an interview Tuesday, Nichols said he testified during the trial that he did not know exactly when Warford died because of the state of decomposition of the body.
Prosecutors were also accused of wrongly telling the jury that a broken cup and bloody rag seized from Hardin’s bedroom was a “chalice” the men drank animal blood from. Hardin said the blood was from cutting his hand. DNA testing later found Hardin was telling the truth and it was his blood.
The lawsuits are seeking a jury trial and unspecified monetary damages.
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