BRANDENBURG, Ky. — A Kentucky judge dismissed murder charges Monday against two men for a 1990s killing that authorities at the time described as "satanic."
Garr Keith Hardin and Jeffrey Dewayne Clark had their convictions in Meade County vacated in 2016 based on DNA testing and evidence of police misconduct. They were released from prison in August of that year after serving more than 20 years.
Hardin and Clark were convicted in 1995 of killing 19-year-old Rhonda Sue Warford, based in part on the prosecution's contention that a hair found on her body was a match to Hardin. They were sentenced to life in prison.
On Monday, Meade County Circuit Judge Bruce Butler dismissed the 1992 murder indictments against the men at the urging of the state attorney general's office.
"The struggle for justice has been long and painful for Mr. Hardin and Mr. Clark, who served more than 20 years and whom the Commonwealth twice threatened with the death penalty for a crime they did not commit," said Seema Saifee, a staff attorney with the Innocence Project. The group is representing Hardin.
The Innocence Project fought for years to have the evidence tested for DNA, and the Kentucky Supreme Court granted the request in 2013. The testing revealed the hair didn't come from Hardin.
Judge Butler overturned their conviction in 2016, finding it "based on suppositions that we now know to be fundamentally false."
The Kentucky Attorney General's office, which took over the case last year, has pledged to re-investigate Warford's killing.
At Hardin and Clark's murder trial in 1995, prosecutors claimed they committed the killings as part of a satanic sacrifice, according to a release Monday from The Innocence Project. Part of the evidence was a bloody cloth and broken glass recovered from Hardin's home that prosecutors said was stained during an animal sacrifice. They said the glass was a "chalice" from which Hardin drank the blood of animals.
Hardin testified at trial that the blood on the cloth was his own, caused by cutting himself on the glass.
A police detective who testified at the trial said Hardin told him that he killed animals as a form of satanic ritual and "got tired of looking at animals and began to want to do human sacrifices." Hardin denied making those statements.