Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Susan King

Other Kentucky Exonerations
In November 1998, a fisherman found the body of 40-year-old Kyle Breeden in the Kentucky River near Gratz, Kentucky. He had been shot in the head twice with .22 caliber magnum bullets and his legs were bound with guitar amplifier cord. He had last been seen October 26, 1998.
 
The crime went unsolved for eight years until May 2006, when Kentucky State Police began re-investigating.  In April 2007, based on an investigation by state police officer Todd Harwood, Breeden’s on-again, off-again girlfriend, Susan King, was charged with murder and tampering with a crime scene.
 
Harwood concluded that King shot Breeden twice in the head in the kitchen of her home following a quarrel. King, who had one leg and weighed 97 pounds, was accused of transporting the body to the river where she physically lifted Breeden’s 180-pound body over the railing of a Kentucky River bridge. King was also charged with trying to clean up the crime scene to hide evidence of the murder. King’s leg had been amputated in 1993 following a vehicle accident for which she was convicted of drunken driving and assault.
 
In September 2008, King entered an Alford plea to second-degree manslaughter in which she did not admit guilt, but conceded that the prosecution had sufficient proof to obtain a conviction. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
 
King served more than six years in prison before she was released on parole in November 2012.
 
By then, she was battling to overturn her conviction with the help of the Kentucky Department of Advocacy’s Kentucky Innocence Project.  The Innocence Project took up the case after concluding that it would have been impossible for King, at her size and missing one leg, to lift the dead Breeden, carry him and push him over the railing of a bridge.
 
In May 2012, Louisville Metro Police narcotics detective Barron Morgan was interrogating Richard Jarrell Jr. about an attempted murder charge for firing a shotgun into the home of a confidential police informant. Jarrell offered to provide information on unsolved crimes in return for leniency for his brother who was facing federal drug charges in Arkansas.
 
In a later interrogation, Jarrell confessed to murdering Breeden as well as committing two other murders. Jarrell said he killed Breeden on the day Jarrell turned 21—October 26, 1998, the same day that Breeden disappeared. He told the police that Breeden had stolen $20 from him the day before and used it to buy crack cocaine.
 
Jarrell said that he went to Breeden’s trailer and found him smoking cocaine—which was consistent with autopsy findings that Breeden had cocaine in his blood. On the day Breeden disappeared, Jarrell said he picked up Breeden under the guise of driving to Jarrell’s father’s home to get money to celebrate Jarrell’s birthday.
 
Before leaving town, Jarrell said he and Breeden stopped at a “bank or check cashing place” where Breeden obtained about $200. This was consistent with records showing that on that day, Breeden went to Kentucky Finance where he obtained a $250 loan.
 
Jarrell said he drove Breeden to an abandoned farmhouse that Jarrell falsely claimed was his father’s farm.  When Breeden approached the locked gate, Jarrell came up behind him and shot him twice in the head.
 
Jarrell said he bound the body and then drove to the Gratz Bridge and dumped the body over the railing.
 
Not long after, Harwood visited Jarrell in jail where he questioned Jarrell again. Harwood claimed that Jarrell recanted his confession, but said he lost the tape of that interview.
 
Morgan then went back to re-interview Jarrell. Morgan recorded Jarrell saying that Harwood told him to stop talking to police, that the evidence of King’s guilt was solid and that no one would help Jarrell’s brother on his federal drug charge.
 
In late June 2012, Harwood’s supervisor visited Jarrell on two occasions and tape-recorded Jarrell recanting. By that time, however, Jarrell – who claimed he was schizophrenic – was heavily medicated and sounded confused and disoriented at times.
 
At a two-day hearing, King’s lawyers presented the tape recordings of Jarrell’s detailed description of how he murdered Breeden.
 
They also presented evidence that Harwood, the Kentucky State Police officer who led the 2006 re-investigation of the murder, made several false statements to the grand jury that indicted King.
 
Harwood told the grand jury that he had assembled 17 reasons—almost all of them based entirely on circumstantial evidence—that, in his view, proved King fatally shot Breeden in her kitchen and then dragged the body across the floor and out the door to her vehicle. Harwood said there were four bullet holes in the kitchen floor and drag marks on the linoleum. He told the grand jury that ballistics analysis showed that two bullets recovered from the floor came from the same weapon that fired the bullets that killed Breeden. Harwood said blood found on the floor was from Breeden. DNA analysis, however, could only determine the blood was from a human male but not from any particular man.
 
The ballistics analysis actually showed the opposite of what Harwood claimed—that the bullets did not match. In addition, police knew that water damage to the floor in King’s kitchen caused the markings that Hardwood said were drag marks. Harwood claimed that King had cleaned up Breeden’s blood, but an analysis of the floor did not show the presence of cleaning chemicals.
 
The Innocence Project lawyers presented evidence that during the grand jury investigation, two different grand jurors asked Harwood how King was able to shoot Breeden and move his body, despite having only one leg and weighing just 97 pounds. Harwood evaded the question on both occasions.
 
In October 2012, King’s motion to vacate her guilty plea was denied. Spencer County Circuit Judge Charles Hickman said that while Jarrell had presented knowledge of a “startling level of details” about Breeden’s murder, the law barred him from granting a motion for a new trial because King had pled guilty.
 
In July 2014, the Commonwealth of Kentucky Court of Appeals reversed the decision, vacated King’s guilty plea and ordered a new trial. The court held that based on evidence of actual innocence, King was entitled to a new trial whether she pled guilty or was convicted at a trial.
 
“In a society whose foundations were built upon the guarantee of justice to every citizen, the conviction of an innocent person represents a serious and egregious violation of such guarantee,” the court declared.
 
On October 7, 2014, the Commonwealth dismissed the charges. In October 2015, King filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Harwood and other police officers. The lawsuit was dismissed in June 2016 and King appealed.
 
– Maurice Possley
 

Report an error or add more information about this case.

Posting Date: 10/11/2014
Last Updated: 11/4/2016
State:Kentucky
County:Spencer
Most Serious Crime:Manslaughter
Additional Convictions:Other Nonviolent Felony
Reported Crime Date:1998
Convicted:2008
Exonerated:2014
Sentence:10 years
Race:Caucasian
Sex:Female
Age at the date of crime:38
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No