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Commonwealth v. Clark

Supreme Court of Kentucky

August 24, 2017

COMMONWEALTH OF KENTUCKY APPELLANT
v.
JEFFREY DEWAYNE CLARK AND GARR KEITH HARDIN APPELLEES

         ON REVIEW FROM COURT OF APPEALS CASE NO. 2016-CA-001153-MR MEADE CIRCUIT COURT NOS. 92-CR-00042 AND 92-CR-00043

          COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT: Andy Beshear Attorney General of Kentucky Perry Thomas Ryan Assistant Attorney General

          COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE, JEFFREY DEWAYNE CLARK: Linda Andrea Smith Department of Public Advocacy Amy Robinson Staples Assistant Public Advocate

          COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE, GARR KEITH HARDIN: Larry David Simon The Simon Law Office Barry C. Scheck Innocence Project . Seema Saifee Innocence Project

          OPINION

          CUNNINGHAM JUSTICE.

         This case began with the murder of a young woman in 1992, resulting in the conviction of Jeffrey Dewayne Clark and Garr Keith Hardin (collectively, "Appellees"). They were both sentenced to life imprisonment. The issue currently before this Court is whether the trial court abused its discretion in subsequently vacating their convictions due to newly discovered evidence and ordering a new trial.

         Background

         Before addressing the merits of that issue, it is necessary to provide a factual and procedural summary of the case:

On April 1, 1992, at approximately 7:00 p.m., nineteen-year-old Rhonda Sue Warford went to the Kroger grocery store near her Louisville home. When she arrived home around 7:30 p.m., she told her mother that as she was leaving the parking lot, a strange man harassed her and told her he wanted to marry her. Just after midnight, Rhonda left home and never returned. Family members surmised that she was going back to the grocery. Three days later, authorities found her dead body approximately fifty miles away in a remote area of Meade County. Police officers preserved the evidence at the scene, including the placement of plastic bags over the victim's hands. The medical examiner"concluded that the victim's death was the result of multiple stab wounds following a close-range violent struggle, as evidenced by defensive wounds on the victim's hands. Evidence obtained at the autopsy included three hairs recovered from the victim's right hand and hairs found on the victim's red sweatpants. Fingernail scrapings were obtained as well.
At the time of the murder, Rhonda was dating [Appellee], Garr Keith Hardin. [Appellee], Jeffrey Dewayne Clark, was a close friend of Hardin's-and had socialized with Rhonda's sister, Michelle, at one time. At the time of the murder, Hardin and Clark were 22 and 21 years old, respectively. Following discovery of the body; Rhonda's mother told police she believed that Rhonda, Michelle, and both [Appellees], were involved in Satanism. Thereafter, the authorities zeroed in on [Appellees] as suspects in the murder.
The physical-evidence the Commonwealth asserted linked the [Appellees] with the murder consisted of (1) a single fingerprint matching the victim's which was lifted from the interior back seat passenger window of Clark's car; and (2) the one hair described as similar to Hardin's found on the victim's red sweatpants.
In 2009, [fourteen years after Appellees' conviction, ] the Innocence Project, Inc. and the Department, of Public Advocacy Kentucky Innocence Project (hereinafter collectively referred to as the Innocence Project) agreed to represent Hardin and Clark, respectively, to secure DNA testing of the hairs found on the victim, as well as the victim's fingernail scrapings.
[T]he trial court denied [Appellees] motion for release of the evidence for DNA analysis. [Appellees] appealed this ruling to the Court ...

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