Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Jeffrey Clark

Other Kentucky Exonerations
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/Jeffrey_Clark.jpg
At about 7:30 p.m. on April 1, 1992, 19-year-old Rhonda Sue Warford returned home from a nearby grocery store parking lot – where she often hung out with friends –in Louisville, Kentucky. She told her mother that as she was leaving the parking lot, a strange man harassed her and said he wanted to marry her. Shortly after midnight, Rhonda left—her family assumed she was going back to the parking lot to meet up with friends again. She never returned.

Her body was found three days later in a field in Meade County, about 50 miles from her home. She had been stabbed many times after what appeared to be a close-range struggle based on defensive wounds on her hands. She died from a knife wound at the base of her skull that severed her brain stem. Hairs were recovered from Warford’s hands and her red sweatpants.

The investigation was handled by Louisville police as well as the Meade County Sheriff’s Office. Warford’s mother said she believed her daughter and some friends were involved in Satanism. Police then focused on 22-year-old Garr Keith Hardin, who had been dating Warford for about five months, and Hardin’s friend, 21-year-old Jeffrey Clark, who had previously socialized with Warford’s sister in 1991.

In separate interviews, Hardin and Clark told police that on the night of April 1 and into the early morning hours of April 2, they were together in Clark's trailer in Louisville, drinking beer and looking for one of Clark’s pet snakes that had gone missing. According to police, Clark and Hardin initially denied owning knives, an assertion both later denied. Clark told police the last time he saw Warford was in December 1991. Hardin said he law saw Warford on March 29, 1992—three days before she went missing—when he spent the night at her home.

A crime laboratory analyst reported that one of the hairs found on Warford’s sweatpants was similar in color and microscopic characteristics to Hardin’s hair. Warford’s mother told prosecutors that the sweatpants were hers, and that she had just laundered them just before Warford borrowed them the night she disappeared. Police believed that the discovery of a hair similar to Hardin’s on the victim's pants meant he had lied about not seeing her after March 29. Police dusted Clark's car for fingerprints and found one of Warford's prints inside the car. It was undisputed that Warford had been in Clark's car on several occasions. Clark said the last time Warford was in his car was in December 1991, several months before the crime.

Louisville Metro Police detective Mark Handy was assigned to head the investigation. Handy had a reputation for solving difficult cases, often by obtaining confessions.

After police recovered knives from Clark and Hardin's homes, as well as various occult-related items in Hardin’s home, Hardin and Clark were questioned about their involvement in satanic worship. Detective Handy reported that Hardin admitted to him that he was once involved in Satanism, used to sacrifice animals, and wanted to sacrifice a human. Police had recovered a broken glass "chalice" and a bloodstained handkerchief from Hardin’s home, but the crime lab could only determine that the handkerchief was stained with blood.

On May 5, 1992, Hardin and Clark were arrested. They were indicted for aggravated murder.

They went to trial in Meade County Circuit Court in February 1995. By that time, the prosecution had informed the defense that a woman had testified under oath before a Meade County grand jury that a man named James Whitely had admitted that he picked up Warford and drove her to Meade County where he killed her after they got into an argument. Police, however, never pursued that lead.

Clark’s ex-girlfriend, Amy Remsberg, testified for the prosecution. Remsberg, who had been prosecuted for sexually abusing her child after Clark reported her to authorities, told the jury that Clark was once involved with satanic worship. She further said that he owned several knives and guns, and that he had an inverted cross tattooed on his shoulder--although Clark would later bare his arms and chest to the jury to reveal had no such tattoo or markings.

Remsberg testified that Clark once told her that it would be a challenge to see if he could commit a murder and get away with it and that he had explained how a person could be killed by a stab wound to the base of the skull—which was where Warford’s fatal wound was located. Remsberg also testified that Clark took her to an area where he claimed a number of animal sacrifices had been made. The defense presented evidence that Remsburg gave a tape-recorded interview to police shortly after the crime during which police specifically asked whether Clark had ever discussed the brain stem and she admitted she never mentioned the brain stem to police.

Another witness, Hope Jaggers, testified that she was Warford's best friend in the year before she died. Jaggers told the jury that that at one point Warford thought she was pregnant, and that Hardin said to Warford that “if you are pregnant, I will kill you and that [expletive] baby.”

Jaggers also testified that she once saw Warford cut her fingertips with a razor and rub the blood on Hardin. However, when asked whether either Clark or Hardin was involved with Satanism, Jaggers said she had had never seen them involved in any way. During cross-examination, Jaggers admitted that she and Warford would meet a man at the grocery store parking lot named “James” and that they had partied with him.

Shawn Lee Mattingly, a former co-worker of Clark, testified that Clark almost always carried a pocket knife with him for use at work, and that he heard from someone else that Clark had a knife that the other person referred to as a “sacrifice knife.” Mattingly also said that Clark had talked about a sacrifice of in front of a church.

Detective Handy testified that Hardin admitted that he had sacrificed animals and that he "got tired of looking at animals and began to want to do human sacrifices.”

Clifford Capps, who was in the Meade County Jail after Hardin and Clark were arrested, testified that Clark admitted to him that he had killed Warford. Capps, who said he was not provided any benefits for his testimony, said that Clark made the admission twice—once in a joking manner and later in a serious fashion.

A Louisville police technician testified that Warford’s fingerprint had been found on Clark’s car. The prosecution argued that the fingerprint was fresh, even though its expert admitted there was no way to determine when a fingerprint was left.

Robert Thurman, a forensic analyst at the Kentucky State Police crime laboratory, conducted the hair analysis. He testified that he examined two grey hairs found in Warford’s hand, and concluded that the hair did not come from Warford, Hardin, or Clark.

He did conclude, however, that one hair found on Warford’s sweatpants was similar in color and microscopic characteristics to Hardin’s hair. Although it was improper for hair analysts to testify that any two hairs “match,” Thurman repeatedly used the term when questioned by the prosecution. He told the jury that “in order for us to call a match, the (two hairs) have to match in characteristics” and that when a side-by-side comparison is made, “they must match that way also.”

The prosecutor asked Thurman, “If you’re looking at two hairs in a microscope, and let’s say you get what I would call a match. Is that the word you use—match? Or how do you grade these hairs?”

Thurman replied, “If something looks like it’s a match, we say it’s similar in color and microscopic characteristics.”

“So, in other words,” the prosecutor said, “If you’re looking at two hairs under a microscope and if they match up in these 15 characteristics that you’re talking about, you use the word similar in characteristics?”

“That’s correct,” Thurman replied.

Hardin and Clark both testified and denied involvement in the crime. They denied admitting to anyone that they committed the crime, and both denied sacrificing animals. Hardin said that the blood on the handkerchief was his, not an animal’s. He said it got there when he cleaned himself up after he dropped the glass chalice and cut himself while picking up the pieces of broken glass.

Several witnesses said that they had never seen Clark or Hardin involved in any satanic acts, although Warford’s sister said that she believed that Hardin actually was involved in satanic worship.

In closing argument, the prosecution repeatedly argued that the hair on the newly laundered sweatpants that was “just like” Hardin’s hair was proof that he had lied about not seeing Warford after March 29, 1992. The prosecutor argued to the jury that the bloodstain on the handkerchief had been deposited during an animal sacrifice and that Hardin used the chalice to drink the blood of animals he sacrificed for Satan.

On March 7, 1995, the jury convicted Hardin and Clark of first-degree murder. Prior to sentencing, the defense discovered a letter that Capps had written to another inmate before trial urging the inmate, in order to help Capps obtain a reduced sentence, to similarly claim that Hardin had confessed to the murders. The defense claimed the prosecution had failed to disclose the letter and that the letter proved that Capps had solicited and attempted to coordinate fabricated testimony from another inmate to obtain leniency for himself. A motion for a new trial was denied and Clark and Hardin were sentenced to life in prison.

Their convictions were upheld on appeal.

In 2009, the Innocence Project in New York and the Kentucky Innocence Project sought DNA testing of the evidence in the case. The request was denied, but in 2013, the Kentucky Supreme Court reversed that decision and ordered that the physical evidence be released for DNA testing.

In 2014, Mitotyping Technologies in Pennsylvania tested the hairs found on the victim's body and determined that the hair that was reported at trial to be a "match" to Hardin's hair did not belong to Hardin, Clark, or Warford. All of the hairs that could be tested excluded Hardin and Clark. In addition, tests performed on the handkerchief confirmed that the blood was Hardin’s—as he had testified at trial.

In February 2015, lawyers for Hardin and Clark filed a motion for a new trial based on the DNA test results.

The lawyers also presented new evidence that Detective Handy falsely testified that Louisville exoneree Edwin Chandler had confessed to a crime and, similar to what Hardin and Clark said he did in their case, manufactured and falsely attributed those incriminating statements as originating from Chandler.

Chandler was convicted of manslaughter in 1993 and was exonerated in 2009. Handy gave the false testimony at Chandler’s trial just weeks before testifying in the trial of Hardin and Clark.

Moreover, the defense presented evidence that in a 1992 murder investigation involving a defendant named Keith West, Handy erased a witness’s tape-recorded statement and recorded over it. However, when he testified about the statement in February 1995 at a pretrial hearing in West's case—the same month Hardin and Clark’s trial began – Handy falsely denied erasing or copying over the taped interview.

On July 14, 2016, Meade County Circuit Court Judge Bruce Butler granted the defense motion and vacated Hardin’s and Clark’s convictions. The judge said that Hardin and Clark had been excluded from the only physical evidence used to link them to the crime, that they were convicted based on false evidence and arguments, and that Handy’s false testimony was the subject of a re-investigation in Chandler's case. That re-investigation recommended that Handy should be criminally investigated.

The judge said that Hardin and Clark were convicted based, “in part, on suppositions that we now know to be fundamentally false and material.”

The judge acknowledged that in 2014, Hardin had admitted involvement in the crime during unsworn testimony at a hearing before the parole board.. The judge found that those statements had no bearing on his decision to grant a new trial. “(T)he court finds that there is reason for candidates for parole to believe that failing to admit culpability or otherwise take responsibility for the crime(s) for which they are imprisoned, will adversely affect the likelihood of obtaining parole,” Judge Butler said. The judge said the admissions had “no legal relevance” to the motion for a new trial and he attached “little weight to this evidence.”

In August 2016, Hardin and Clark were released after each posted $5,000 bail. While the prosecution was appealing the ruling granting a new trial, the prosecution returned to the grand jury and, in September 2016, Hardin and Clark were re-indicted. Hardin was accused of perjury and both were charged with kidnapping Warford. In March 2017, after oral arguments on a defense motion to dismiss the new indictments, the prosecution brought superseding kidnapping indictments and additional charges of perjury against both men.

The perjury charges were largely based on Hardin’s admission before the parole board, and for lying under oath during the evidentiary hearing held after the DNA testing was completed. The kidnapping charges alleged that Hardin and Clark had abducted Warford, and lied to her about where they were taking her--essentially the same underlying conduct as the vacated murder convictions.

In August 2017, the Kentucky Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's ruling granting a new trial. "It stretches the limit of our imagination to say (granting a new trial) was an abuse of discretion," the court said. The court said it found "little merit" in the statements to the parole board, calling the statements "insincere and contrived admissions...induced solely by the yearning to be free."

In January 2018, Judge Butler dismissed the new kidnapping and perjury charges, calling them the result of “vindictive” prosecution. The judge found the charges were brought solely to increase the punishment that Hardin and Clark faced, to punish them for successfully “exercising their legal rights,” and in retaliation for winning a new trial.

On February 8, 2018, the Kentucky Attorney General's Office of Special Prosecutions, which had taken over the case in 2017, filed a motion to dismiss the remaining murder indictments, citing the discredited physical evidence and the new evidence relating to Detective Handy. “What this honorable court and the parties now know is that Det. Handy has been investigated for falsifying at least one other confession,” the motion said. "Put bluntly, the Commonwealth cannot put credibility into an unrecorded statement taken by a detective who has a documented history of fabricating details of a murder case in his investigative summaries," the motion said.

On February 26, 2018, Judge Butler granted the prosecution motion and dismissed the charges. Two days later, Handy, who had subsequently joined the Jefferson County, Kentucky sheriff's office, retired.

In 2017, Hardin and Clark filed a federal lawsuit seeking damages from Meade County and the city of Louisville, including Detective Handy. That lawsuit had been stayed pending the resolution of the criminal case.

In March 2018, the Louisville Metro Council adopted a resolution requesting the Attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Detective Handy for any criminal activity in his handling of the Chandler case. In April 2018, a special prosecutor was appointed and authorized to pursue allegations in other cases where similar claims of wrongdoing have been made against Handy.

– Maurice Possley

Report an error or add more information about this case.

Posting Date: 3/1/2018
Last Updated: 3/3/2018
State:Kentucky
County:Meade
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1992
Convicted:1995
Exonerated:2018
Sentence:Life
Race:Caucasian
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:21
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:Yes*