Exoneration Finally Likely for Susan Jean King
On July 18, 2014, the Kentucky Court of Appeals granted a new trial to Susan Jean King, who spent more than five years behind bars for a crime she maintains she did not commit. King was arrested in connection with the 1998 murder of Kyle “Deanie” Breeden eight years after Breeden’s death, when a police detective assigned to the cold case identified King as the primary suspect. On the advice of her attorney King took an Alford plea to manslaughter, which allowed her to assert her innocence while acknowledging that the prosecution had sufficient evidence to convict her. In exchange, King received a 10-year sentence with parole eligibility after two years; she faced life in prison if convicted at trial.
But, in May 2012 while being questioned regarding a different crime, Richard Jarrell, Jr. confessed to murdering Breeden. At that time the Kentucky Innocence Project (KIP) was investigating King’s case, having determined that it would have been physically impossible for her to kill Breeden. King had one leg and weighed less than 100 pounds at the time of the offense, but Breeden’s body had been thrown off a bridge. The fact that King’s left leg had been amputated was never mentioned to the grand jury that indicted her. Furthermore, Louisville narcotics Detective Barron Morgan gave Jarrell’s confession to KIP, and later claimed he was demoted for doing so.
On May 18, 2012, King’s lawyers moved for a new trial based on Jarrell’s confession. Spencer Circuit Judge Charles Hickman denied the motion. Judge Hickman acknowledged that Jarrell’s confession was evidence that “with reasonable certainty” would have changed the result of King’s prosecution if a new trial were granted: Jarrell had given the police details of the crime that were unavailable to the public, including Breeden’s activities before he was murdered, the manner in which Breeden was killed, and how Breeden’s body ended up in the river. However, Hickman held that he could not legally grant King a new trial because she had pled guilty.
In a unanimous decision, the Court of Appeals reversed Judge Hickman’s ruling, finding that King was entitled to a new trial based on Jarrell’s confession, regardless of how her conviction came about. In fact, the Kentucky Supreme Court had entertained a similar motion to King’s in another case in which the defendant had pled guilty but had newly-discovered evidence. King served her sentence and was released on mandatory reentry supervision in late 2012, shortly after the likely perpetrator confessed to the crime for which she was convicted. The office of the Kentucky Commonwealth’s Attorney has suggested it is unlikely that King will be re-tried. We will keep you posted on any developments.
Kristine Bunch returns to
Indiana to educate and inspire
On June 6, 2014, Kristine Bunch returned to the state of her wrongful conviction and spoke at Indiana University McKinney School of Law, as part of a day-long event titled Law and Forensic Science in Indiana. Kristine’s conviction was overturned by the Indiana Court of Appeals in 2012, in a decision that is already well known and frequently cited. Kristine, who hopes to attend law school one day, is committed to educating law students, members of the legal community, and the public regarding factors that can lead to wrongful convictions. WTHR of Indianapolis ran a beautiful story that gives a flavor of Kristine’s inspiring remarks.
Why Women's Cases Are Different
|Innocent women accused of heinous crimes face extraordinary challenges. In many cases, they are suspected of harming their children or other loved ones.|
|As a result, when under investigation, they are coping with deep personal losses, rendering them especially vulnerable to high-pressure interrogation tactics that sometimes lead to false confessions or seemingly inculpatory statements.|
|When women—traditionally viewed as nurturers and protectors—are accused of murdering or sexually abusing children, they are particularly reviled by society, including, of course, by police, prosecutors, judges, jurors, and witnesses.|
|In cases in which no crime has occurred—such as those arising from accidental or natural deaths that are mistaken for homicides—convictions are likely to ensue. Because the evidence in such cases is often entirely circumstantial, identifying wrongful convictions is difficult and rectifying them is complicated.|