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$20.5 Million Settlement for Two Kentucky Prisoners Exonerated and Freed After 22 Years

by David M. Reutter

 

On September 7, 2023, the Louisville/Jefferson County Metro Government in Kentucky agreed to pay $20.5 million to settle a civil rights action alleging constitutional violations in the wrongful murder convictions and imprisonment of Jeffrey Dwayne Clark and Garr Keith Hardin.

Both now 54, they were 22-year-olds when found guilty in the 1992 stabbing death of Hardin’s girlfriend, Rhonda Sue Warford, 19. Prosecutors charged the killing was part of a satanic ritual, pointing to Hardin’s admitted involvement in satanism. But that admission was a lie made up by a dirty cop, who also tied the two to other evidence found at the crime scene. After 22 years of wrongful imprisonment, they were exonerated and freed in 2016 when DNA analysis of that evidence failed to find a match to them. But there was more to cast doubt on their 1995 murder conviction.

The lawsuit that they filed in 2017 alleged that disgraced Louisville police detective Mark Handy fabricated and manipulated evidence to wrongly convict them. The complaint noted that Handy had a reputation among colleagues as a “closer who could wrest a confession out of anybody.” He falsely reported that Hardin admitted to performing satanic rituals by sacrificing animals, embellishing that lie by saying he had decided to “do a human.”

“It became the linchpin of the case against Hardin and Clark,” the complaint alleged. “But nothing in the statement was true.”

Handy pleaded guilty in 2021 to perjury and fabricating evidence in two other cases that ended in wrongful convictions. He was sentenced to a ridiculously short prison term—just one year—and then served a ridiculously short portion of that, released after less than a month to home confinement by the state Department of Corrections in May 2021.

After the Innocence Project took up Hardin and Clark’s case, a judge agreed that DNA from hairs found at the scene did not match either man, also citing Handy’s questionable credibility in a 2016 order vacating their convictions. After they were released, the state attempted to retry them for murder, seeking the death penalty this time. However, the judge found that attempt was vindictive prosecution and dismissed the charges.

“They tried, essentially, putting two innocent people on death row after they were granted a new trial,” said Elliott Slosar, one of the attorneys who represented Hardin and Clark.

The settlement guaranteed total payments of $7,925,000 each to Hardin and Clark. An interesting provision called for Hardin and Clark to receive 40%, or no more than $2.325 million each, of the proceeds in a lawsuit that was pending against General Star Indemnity Company. That raised the total that each could be paid to a maximum of $10.25 million. An award of attorney’s fees is yet to be determined.

Clark was represented by attorneys with Loevy & Loevy in Chicago and Hardin by attorneys with Neufeld, Scheck, Brustin, Hoffman & Fredenberger in New York City. Their suit is still proceeding toward trial for remaining Defendant officials with Meade County and Kentucky State Police; PLN will update developments as they are available. See: Clark v. Louisville-Jefferson Cty. Metro Gov’t, USDC, W.D. Kentucky Case No. 3:17-cv-00419.

 

Additional Sources: Louisville-Courier Journal, New York Times, WDRB

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Related legal case

Clark v. Louisville-Jefferson Cty. Metro Gov’t