LOUISVILLE, Ky. (CN) – A pair of inmates wrongfully imprisoned for over 22 years on murder convictions claim the Louisville Police Department fabricated evidence and a story about a Satanic ritual killing to convict them.
Jeffrey Clark and Garr Hardin were released from prison in August 2016 after DNA evidence exonerated them for the killing of 19-year-old Sue Warford, who was found stabbed to death in a Meade County, Kentucky, field on April 5, 1992.
Clark and Hardin claim that Louisville Police Detective Mark Handy “immediately focused the investigation on [them] and developed the false theory that they had murdered the victim in a Satanic ritual killing.”
Clark and Hardin filed nearly identical lawsuits with separate attorneys in the Western District of Kentucky this week, claiming that Detective Handy’s “practice was to coerce confessions by lying to suspects about the evidence against them – including false or sham polygraph results, threats, and false promises of leniency.”
The men claim Handy used these tactics during interrogations, and when they refused to confess to Warford’s killing, he “falsely reported that Hardin admitted sacrificing animals as part of a Satanic ritual and later decided that he wanted to ‘do a human.’”
Hardin says “nothing in the statement was true. [He] had never sacrificed an animal or a human, and he never told Det. Handy that he had done so or wanted to try.”
Another investigator “conspired with Clark’s estranged girlfriend … to manufacture an inculpatory statement falsely accusing Clark of an interest in Satanism and murder,” according to Hardin’s lawsuit.
“[The ex-girlfriend] had reason to falsely implicate Clark because he had witnessed her sexually abusing her son and reported the abuse,” the lawsuit claims.
Hardin says the Louisville Metro Police Department and its investigators also falsely asserted a bloodstained handkerchief found in his home had been used to clean up animal sacrifices, despite having no DNA evidence to support the claim.
“Hardin consistently maintained the blood on the handkerchief was his own,” says the complaint, “but, on information and belief, defendants either suppressed evidence that corroborated Hardin’s account or deliberately failed to investigate it. DNA testing later proved Hardin right: the blood on the handkerchief was his.”
The two men say the only physical evidence obtained by police was a hair supposedly left on the victim by the murderer.
A Kentucky State Police forensic investigator told the prosecution the hair belonged to Hardin, but the men claim “post-conviction DNA testing excluded both Hardin and Clark as the source of the hair.”
Even a confession from a man with a “long and violent criminal history” did not deter Handy and the other investigators from pursuing charges against Clark and Hardin, they say.
James Whitely allegedly confessed to the murder before Clark and Hardin were tried, but the now-exonerated men claim “defendants ignored it.”
Clark and Hardin were convicted of the murder in 1995 and sentenced to life in prison. They served over 22 years of their sentences before the Kentucky Supreme Court ordered DNA testing of the physical evidence in 2013.
“This testing proved definitively that none of the hairs found on the victim could have come from Hardin or Clark – including the hair that purportedly matched Hardin’s hair under a microscope,” the lawsuit states. (emphasis in original)
The Meade County Circuit Court vacated the murder convictions, and Clark and Hardin were released on $5,000 bail in 2016. The men claim they were re-indicted in 2016 and 2017 despite “the utter lack of physical evidence connecting them to the crime.”
Both suits name the same set of defendants, including the Louisville Jefferson County Metro Government, the City of Louisville, Meade County, Detective Mark Handy, Louisville Police Sergeants Charles Edelen and Jim Woosley, Louisville Police Major James Griffiths, Meade County Sheriff Joseph Greer, Meade County Sheriff’s Deputies Ernie Embry and Cliff Wise, Meade County Coroner William Adams, Kentucky State Medical Examiner George Nichols, and Kentucky State Police Crime Lab Forensic Serologist Robert Thurman.
The men seek damages for due process violations, malicious prosecution, conspiracy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent supervision, and Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment violations.
Hardin is represented by Larry Simon of Louisville, and Jeffrey Clark is represented by Amy Robinson Staples of Loevy and Loevy in Chicago.