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Ronald Carden

Sentenced in 1982 to two life sentences for the rape and murder of a 19-year-old woman near Little Rock, Arkansas, Ronald Carden was exonerated as a result of another man’s confession, as well as information uncovered by investigative reporter Mike Masterson of The Arkansas Democrat.
 
On September 12, 1981, the decomposing body of a young woman was found by a hunter in the woods in northern Pulaski County, Arkansas, in brush near a logging road. She had been strangled with a pair of bootlaces that was still embedded in her neck. At the time of her discovery, she could not be identified.
 
As police investigated the unidentified body, Ronald Carden’s 77-year-old alcoholic uncle, Jim Johnson, who frequented the rural area in which the body was found, began bragging that he knew exactly where the dead woman was found. When brought in for questioning by the County Sheriff, Johnson told a story about Johnson and Carden picking up two female hitchhikers, taking them to a house and drinking and having sex with them. He also told authorities that he recalled helping Carden move a white girl, who appeared to be dead, off the highway by the logging road where the body was discovered. Afterward, Johnson asserted the girl had only been drunk and denied stating that he had ever seen a dead woman. Johnson’s stories were confused and contradictory. Carden was questioned about Johnson’s hitchhiking stories, then charged with capital felony murder on October 2, 1981. The charge was later changed to first-degree murder and rape. On October 31, 1981, Johnson admitted that he had been drinking at the time he gave his statement on October 2 and would have said anything to get the authorities to let him go.
 
In the meantime, on October 6, 1981, Carden pleaded not guilty. In November of that year, the Pulaski County Judge ordered the remains of the unidentified woman cremated. By December 1981, Carden’s family had raised $150,000 for his bail, and he was released.
 
In May 1982, Carden was convicted of both charges and received two life sentences after a state crime laboratory analyst testified at his trial that hairs found on the victim’s tank top matched a hair taken from Carden’s arm.
 
The following month, William Walter Perry III, of Little Rock, murdered his wife and left her body in the woods north of Little Rock. He called his minister to confess. He also confessed to strangling Mildred K. Honeycutt of Pocahontas, Arkansas, in September 1981, and dumping her body in the woods north of Little Rock. The Pulaski County Sheriff had the dental records of the unidentified woman tested against those of Honeycutt. The crime lab dentist concluded that Honeycutt and the unidentified person “definitely are not” the same person. The Sheriff also showed color photos of the unidentified woman, whose body was very decomposed at the time the photos were taken, to Mildred Honeycutt’s family. Honeycutt’s parents were not able to identify the victim as their daughter. The Sheriff called Perry a liar and closed the case.
 
Also that month, journalist Mike Masterson, who had just returned to his home state after stints as an investigative reporter at several large daily newspapers, heard of the case and asked to review the State Medical Examiner’s files on the unidentified woman. Masterson obtained two black-and-white photos from those files. The black-and-white photos showed two birthmarks (not shown on the color photos previously shown to Honeycutt’s family) on the unidentified woman’s shoulder. Honeycutt’s missing person’s file mentioned two birthmarks on her shoulder. Masterson showed the photos to Honeycutt’s family, who identified the victim as Honeycutt and told Masterson that Honeycutt left home in September 1981 with Perry. Masterson wrote a story identifying the slain woman as Honeycutt and describing her relationship with Perry. The Sheriff tried to discourage Masterson’s paper from running the articles.
 
Following that, Perry refused to speak with the Sheriff or the prosecutors about the Honeycutt case. However, in a second article published on July 3, 1982, Masterson disclosed the confession of the Honeycutt murder that Perry had given to a minister and another man. The authorities had never taken statements from these men, but Masterson did so on the same day his second article ran. Statements also were taken by a private investigator. The statements were later admitted in Carden’s motion for a new trial.
 
On July 14, 1982, the prosecutor said that Perry's confession was not believable because it only contained facts circulated in the media. Two days later, Perry gave a confession to the Sheriff and the prosecutor. Carden’s attorney was denied access to the statement. The contents of the deposition were withheld from the local press. Nearly two weeks later, Masterson acquired a copy of this taped confession. The confession was detailed and contained one significant fact that had never been reported. On the same day, Masterson wrote a story detailing Perry’s confession.
 
In November 1982, Masterson wrote another story that revealed that the FBI had discovered that the body hairs used to help convict Carden were not distinctive enough to compare with each other, and this information had been withheld by the prosecution. In December 1982, Masterson wrote another story that revealed the existence of evidence related to semen tests that linked Perry with Honeycutt. That same month, a Circuit Judge set aside Carden’s conviction and remanded the case to the prosecutor for a new trial.
 
On December 27, 1982, the prosecutor dropped all charges against Carden.
 
- Lesli L. Falk
State:AR
County:Pulaski
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Reported Crime Date:1981
Convicted:1982
Exonerated:1982
Sentence:Life
Race:Don't Know
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:34
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation