LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Two Kentucky men exonerated for a decades-old killing have settled with the city of Louisville for $20.5 million after spending more than 20 years in prison, lawyers for the men said Friday.
A judge dismissed murder charges against Garr Keith Hardin and Jeffrey Dewayne Clark in 2018 for the 1990s slaying of 19-year-old Rhonda Sue Warford. Authorities at the time alleged the two men killed Warford as part of a satanic ritual.
Attorneys for the men brought a civil lawsuit in 2018 that alleged police misconduct and a conspiracy to hide evidence in the case. The attorneys said two additional defendants in the civil suit, the Meade County Sheriff's office and Kentucky State Police, have not yet reached a settlement with the men.
“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,” said Nick Brustin, a New York-based lawyer. A release from the firms representing Hardin and Clark credited the Innocence Project and Kentucky Innocence Project with presenting DNA evidence that led to their exoneration.
Another attorney for the men, Elliot Slosar, of Chicago, credited “Louisville's current leadership" for working “to resolve the decades of injustice inflicted upon Jeff Clark and Keith Hardin.”
“After many years of ongoing litigation, we have reached an important conclusion with this settlement," a spokesperson for Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg said in a statement Friday. "The criminal investigation involving the death of Ms. Warford is active and ongoing and we remain hopeful her family will see justice.”
The two men were released from prison in August 2018. Their convictions in 1995 were based in part on a hair found at the crime scene that Louisville investigators said was a match for Hardin.
A former Louisville police detective at the center of the investigation, Mark Handy, reached a plea deal in 2021 for perjury in another case that led to a wrongful conviction.
The lawsuit filed by Hardin and Clark said Handy and investigators from Meade County “immediately focused the investigation on Hardin and Clark and developed the false theory that they had murdered the victim in a satanic ritual killing.”
During the trial, Handy testified that Hardin had told him he “got tired of looking at animals and began to want to do human sacrifices.”
Warford was dating Hardin at the time of her disappearance in 1992, and Clark was Hardin's friend. After Warford's body was found in nearby Meade County, Warford’s mother told police she believed all three were involved in satanism.