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Delmar Partin

Other Kentucky Exonerations
The last time Betty Carnes was seen alive was just after 11 a.m. on Sunday, September 26, 1993, as she was working inside the quality-control lab at the Tremco factory in Barbourville, Kentucky. When Carnes didn’t come home from work that evening, her daughter became worried, and she and other family members went to the factory to look for Carnes.

They then went to the home of 37-year-old Delmar Partin. He and Carnes, who was the same age, were co-workers, and they had had an affair that ended about a year earlier. One of the relatives confronted Partin and said, “Betty is missing; we know you have done something with her.”

Partin said he had been with his wife all day, but she then reminded Partin that wasn’t so. He had dropped her off at church in the morning. After the women left, Partin’s wife called the Kentucky State Police to tell authorities what had happened. An officer told them to stay elsewhere that evening but to keep the state police informed of their whereabouts.

After the Partins left, Carnes’ relatives returned and found the house empty. They called the Barbourville Police Department. At about 2 a.m. on September 27, two police officers entered the Tremco factory to look for Carnes or signs of foul play. They found nothing. They also cut off the lock on Carnes’s work locker and discovered cards to her written by Partin.

Several hours later, at about 9 a.m. on Monday, a worker at the factory named Robert E. Lee noticed that a 55-gallon drum was unusually heavy. He and a supervisor opened the drum and found Carnes inside, along with some bloody towels. An autopsy would later say that she had been strangled with a half-inch cord, hit eight times with a blunt object, and decapitated. Partin was arrested later that day and charged with murder.

As part of the investigation, the Kentucky state police searched Partin’s house, an outbuilding, and his Corvette. They seized several pieces of evidence, including a knife and screwdriver. None of the items tested positive for the presence of blood. During a later search of Partin’s trash, the state police found a paper towel with a reddish stain and another paper towel that had some hair in it. The reddish stain was not blood, but the second paper towel showed the presence of blood, although not enough to do testing. Some but not all of the hair on the towel was later found to share similar characteristics with samples from Carnes’s body.

At the Tremco factory, a more careful investigation found blood on some work gloves, a ceiling tile, a vent and a shirt. These were all found to be consistent with Carnes’s blood type.

Inside the barrel, the investigators found several loose buttons and some thread. An analyst with the state police said that the fiber of the thread was consistent with the thread on a work shirt worn by Partin, but these shirts were common at the factory, as they were issued by the company and worn by many employees.

Partin’s trial in Knox County Circuit Court began on August 17, 1994. The prosecution’s theory was that Partin had killed Carnes after she ended their affair. Several co-workers testified that she had become uneasy around Partin and was afraid of him. Other co-workers testified that their breakup had been mutual and more amiable.

Partin was not working on the day Carnes went missing, but he had gone to the factory to drop off some ammunition and a magazine for a co-worker. He was first seen at the factory at 10:50 a.m. Carnes was last seen alive at about 11:05 a.m. A co-worker saw Partin leave the quality-control lab where Carnes worked at about 11:20, and another employee saw him leave the factory at 11:30. According to this timeline, Partin had only about 15 minutes in which to kill Carnes, cut off her head, put her in the drum, seal the drum, and then clean up himself and the crime scene to avoid detection.

The prosecution alleged that Partin was able to accomplish this because he was a skilled alligator hunter, familiar with a technique that involved cutting off the blood flow to the head with a cord and greatly minimizing the loss of blood. Dr. Robert Nichols testified about how compression of the carotid arteries worked.

Barbara Wheeler, a trace analyst with the Kentucky State Police, testified about the forensic evidence recovered from the crime scene and from Partin’s home. She testified that there were similarities between Carnes’s hair and some of the hair found on the paper towel at Partin’s home. She also said that a fiber found on a button in the barrel “matched” fiber on Partin’s work shirt, although it would have also matched other Tremco-issued work shirts.

Prosecutor Thomas Handy said the hair evidence was conclusive. “We know her hair is in that man’s trash can,” he told jurors. “How did it get there? It got there during his act of murder. It got there in that near perfect murder, of him cleaning and doing what he could, he could not avoid at least one hair, and it went home with him when he went home.”

During his opening statement, Partin’s attorney said he would introduce evidence that Carnes had been romantically involved with other co-workers. But the state objected, arguing that this was an attack on the victim’s character, and Judge Roderick Messer sustained the objection, so this evidence was never heard.

But during closing arguments, Handy noted that the defense had failed to shift the spotlight away from Partin. “Other affairs – no evidence on it,” the prosecutor said. “While she’s dead and buried, it’s easy to make accusations. If there’s proof, bring these people in like they said they would do. They didn’t come.”

Partin was convicted on August 24, 1994 and sentenced to life in prison. While he was eligible for parole in 12 years, the parole board ruled that he needed to serve out his sentence.

Partin’s first appeal said the trial judge erred in allowing testimony concerning Carnes’s alleged fear of Partin because it was hearsay evidence. The appeal also said the judge should have allowed a directed verdict for acquittal on the grounds that there simply wasn’t enough time to commit the crime in the manner the state suggested. Finally, he said that Messer had improperly barred testimony about Carnes’s other affairs. The Kentucky Supreme Court rejected his appeal on March 21, 1996. Justice Janet Stumbo dissented, writing, “This was a dreadfully gruesome murder, of that there is no doubt. The gruesomeness of the crime, however, is not grounds for affirming a conviction obtained through the use of inadmissible evidence and improper argument.”

Partin then filed a pro se appeal that alleged prosecutors failed to turn over evidence of an alternate suspect. He also argued that the trial court should have held a hearing on ineffective assistance of counsel because his attorney didn’t refute evidence that Partin was a skilled alligator hunter.

In rejecting this appeal, the Kentucky Court of Appeals noted that Partin’s attorney was aware that a woman had approached the state police with information about this other suspect but had chosen not to present it. An affidavit submitted with the appeal said that Partin had never hunted alligators; he had only watched a hunt. The appellate court said that Partin’s attorneys had made a tactical decision not to call attention to this issue, because they thought the state’s alligator-hunting theory was too ridiculous to be taken seriously.

Working with the Kentucky Innocence Project, Partin filed a motion to conduct mitochondrial DNA testing on the hair that was found on the paper towel in his house. Prosecutors had said in closing arguments that this hair belonged to Carnes and was the “only error” made by Partin when he murdered her. Partin’s request to conduct testing was rejected by Messer.

He then appealed to the Kentucky Court of Appeals, which rejected his request on August 27, 2010. The court said that only defendants facing capital punishment were entitled as a matter of law to post-conviction DNA testing.

In addition, the court said that the results of the DNA testing were unlikely to lead to a different result at trial. “Even if DNA analysis excludes the victim as the source of any hair in Partin’s kitchen trash,” the court wrote, “Even if a third person’s DNA shows up among the evidence at the Tremco laboratory, which would not be surprising given the number of persons who were in and out of that location on Sunday, September 26, 1993, no testimonial inconsistencies exist which otherwise cast doubt on the jury’s verdict.”

On November 30, 2019, Partin submitted an application for a pardon to Gov. Matt Bevin, who had recently lost his bid for reelection. In the application, Partin wrote: I was convicted of a murder that I did not commit and have served 25½ years of a life sentence. I have no prior record of any kind, have always maintained a job both here and on the street, and I have never used drugs or alcohol. I was 38 years old when I arrived here and now I will turn 64 in a few months.”

As part of the application, Partin included letters of support from families and friends. One letter alleged that Messer had a conflict of interest because he was related to Carnes’s husband and also a good friend of Carnes’s mother. Messer had requested to preside over the trial. Partin’s attorneys asked him to recuse himself, but Messer refused to do so.

Bevin pardoned Partin on December 9, 2019, and he was released from prison. In the pardon statement, Bevin wrote, “Given the inability or unwillingness of the state to use existing DNA evidence to either affirm or disprove this conviction, I hereby pardon Mr. Partin for this crime and encourage the state to make every effort to bring final justice for the victim and her family.”

The pardon was harshly criticized by many people in Kentucky, including members of Carnes’s family, who believed that Bevin had let a killer go free.

But Partin’s supporters said that he had been wrongfully convicted for a crime he didn’t commit . “What happened to Ms. Carnes is horrific and I think that’s why they found it easier to point at Delmar,” said Melanie Foote with the Kentucky Innocence Project. “Something this terrible, you want to be able to say ‘We got the guy.’”

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 4/3/2020
Last Updated: 7/30/2020
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1993
Age at the date of reported crime:37
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No