Two Wrongfully Convicted Men Win $20.5M From Louisville

By Daniel Connolly | September 8, 2023, 8:18 PM EDT ·

Two men who each spent about 22 years in prison for a murder but were later exonerated through DNA evidence will share a $20.5 million settlement from Louisville's government, attorneys for the men announced Friday.

The $20.5 million will be split evenly between the two men — $10.25 million per plaintiff, Elliot Slosar, a partner with Loevy & Loevy and an attorney for one of the men, Jeffrey Clark, told Law360 Friday.

Fees for their attorneys are included in that amount, Slosar said.

Clark now lives in rural Kentucky and repairs vehicles, Slosar said. "Obviously, with the stigma associated with a wrongful conviction, it was difficult for him to get a regular job," he said. "And so this will obviously help him take a large step forward in rebuilding his life."

"I think Jeff is looking to move out of state and hopefully use the money to relax and try to have experiences that were taken from him for the 22 years he was incarcerated," Slosar said.

The other plaintiff, Hardin, was represented by Neufeld Scheck & Brustin LLP.

"Today's settlement says loudly and clearly that Keith Hardin and Jeffrey Clark are innocent, and that Louisville detectives and supervisors responsible for this injustice will be held accountable," Nick Brustin, a partner with the firm, said in a statement.

He added that even though the plaintiffs have settled with the Louisville government, they're still pursuing claims against other defendants:

"This is only the first step in Keith and Jeff's journey toward justice, and we look forward to proving at trial the complicity of Meade County and the state forensic examiner."

Keith Hardin and Clark were accused in the 1992 killing of Rhonda Sue Warford, went to trial in 1995, were convicted and were sentenced to life in prison.

But The Innocence Project and the Kentucky Innocence Project fought their conviction. They were released on bail in 2016 based on DNA evidence and exonerated in 2018.

Hardin and Clark filed suit in 2017 and filed an amended complaint in 2018, blaming their conviction on deliberate police misconduct, including fabrication of evidence by detective Mark Handy, who alleged they'd carried out a satanic ritual killing.

Handy, the detective on the case, was accused of misconduct in multiple cases he investigated and was later convicted on charges of perjury and tampering with evidence, the Louisville Courier-Journal newspaper has reported.

The two men's lawsuit accused not just Handy, but several other police officials and state and local government agencies. At the time of the conviction, Louisville operated as a city government. It joined Jefferson County in a metropolitan government in 2003.

The suit also named as defendants officials from nearby Meade County, which also took part in the investigation because the victim's body was found there.

Documents filed in court Thursday confirmed the settlement of the lawsuit in favor of Hardin and Clark, but didn't list the amount.

A representative of the Louisville government wasn't immediately available for comment Friday afternoon.

Other cases of falsely convicted defendants in Louisville have also led to settlements. As one example, Edwin Chandler won an $8.5 million settlement in 2012.

And elsewhere in Kentucky, Slosar's firm represented William Virgil, who was exonerated in a homicide case and won a settlement from the city of Newport this year for $28 million. Local media outlets described that amount as a record. Virgil died before the settlement was finalized.

Clark is represented by Elliot Slosar, Arthur Loevy, Jon Loevy, Michael Kanovitz, Amy Robinson Staples and Margaret E. Campbell of Loevy & Loevy.

Keith Hardin is represented by Nick Brustin, Barry Scheck, Anna Benvenutti Hoffmann, Emma Freudenberger, Katie McCarthy, Owanaemi Briggs and Sophia Villarreal of Neufeld of Scheck & Brustin as well as by Larry D. Simon.

Mark Handy is represented by William H. Brammell Jr. and Kent Wicker of Wicker / Brammell PLLC.

Jim Woosley, a police official, is represented by Joseph C. Klausing and Caroline Bruenderman of O'Bryan, Brown & Toner PLLC.

James Griffiths, a police official, as well as the City of Louisville and Louisville Jefferson County Metro Government, are represented by Lee E. Sitlinger and Abigail T. Fletcher of Sitlinger Law.

The case is Jeffrey Dewayne Clark et al. vs. Louisville Jefferson Metro Govt. et al., case number 3:17-cv-00419 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky.

--Editing by Jeremy Abrams.

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