Detective's credibility questioned again after 2 men freed in 1992 'satanic' murder plot

Men cleared in 'satanic' killing, detective again under fire
During their time in prison, Garr Keith Hardin and Jeffrey Clark maintained their innocence. (Source: WAVE 3 News Archive)
During their time in prison, Garr Keith Hardin and Jeffrey Clark maintained their innocence. (Source: WAVE 3 News Archive)

BRANDENBURG, KY (WAVE) - After spending 21 years behind bars, two men are free from further prosecution in a murder case dating back to 1992.

On Monday, Meade County Judge Bruce Butler followed the Attorney General's plea not to seek further murder indictments against Jeffrey Clark and Garr Keith Hardin.

"It's just beating really hard," Clark described his heart moments after the judge's decision.

"I feel so many different things at once," Hardin said.

The men were accused of murdering Rhonda Sue Warford in what detectives described as a "satanic" plot.

The Innocence Project got involved in 2009.

Last year, Butler vacated their murder convictions, believing the evidence and the investigation conducted by then-Detective Mark Handy was flawed.

Shortly thereafter, the Commonwealth filed an appeal to try to re-indict the men for murder.

That's when Attorney General Andy Beshear filed a motion to dismiss all future charges against the pair.

Monday, Butler agreed.

"A lot of people ask me why I ain't so bitter," Clark said. "I am bitter but I ain't going to let it destroy the rest of my life."

In the motion, Beshear dismissed evidence presented against Hardin and Clark which was essential to the original convictions. Beshear explained that more modern forensic testing dismantled the prosecution's case.

The murder allegations revolved around a satanic cult, including claims that Hardin killed animals. Handy testified Hardin told him he "got tired of looking at animals and began to want to do humans." That's something Hardin denied saying. There were also questions revolving around a blood-stained rag which was taken as evidence in the case. Modern DNA testing revealed the blood belonged to Hardin, which is what he had testified during trial.

Beshear also stated Handy has been known to lie in other cases where convictions were later overturned.

The question remains, who killed Warford?

That's something Clark said he wants to know, too, for his sake and Warford's family.

"I want to see who actually did this crime," he said. "I want some closure and I want to know who took my life away from me."

Handy is now the subject of other pending lawsuits. His investigative work has led to two other wrongful convictions, including that of Edwin Chandler.   Chandler spent nearly nine years behind bars before his conviction was overturned thanks to a fresh investigation by the Innocence Project. Chandler sued, and the City of Louisville paid him $8.5 million.

During Clark's and Hardin's hearing Monday, attorneys had strong words about Handy and told the judge something needs to be done to make him accountable.

"We need good police officers out there," Clark said. "I respect them because they protect us all, they protect our children. But what's disturbing is that Mark Handy still has a badge and a gun."

Handy is currently a sergeant with the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office. He declined to comment for this story.

Handy's current boss, Sheriff John Aubrey, was the Louisville Police Assistant Chief in the early 1990s when Handy investigated both the Chandler case as well as the and Hardin and Clark case.

A sheriff's office spokesperson said the office cannot comment on pending litigation.

Hardin and Clark both have filed federal lawsuits.

Just last week, another lawsuit was filed on behalf of Shamaeka Shaw, a Louisville resident who claims Handy strangled and humiliated her, shouting racial slurs during an eviction. Handy charged her with resisting arrest. A jury acquitted her of that claim.

Shaw, represented by attorney Sam Aguiar, is also suing the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office for what she claims is negligence in the employment of Handy.

Meanwhile, Beshear has called for a review of other cases in which Handy was involved.

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