LMPD :: Louisville Metro Police Department

KSP, LMPD wrestle over confession in 1998 slaying


With one of its cases threatening to unravel, the Kentucky State Police contacted the Louisville Metro Police Department in May and demanded that it bar one of its detectives from cooperating with the state Innocence Project.

The Louisville detective had contacted Innocence Project lawyers after a man confessed to a killing for which a Spencer County woman, Susan Jean King, is serving 10 years in prison.

The KSP's actions came up during testimony at a two-day hearing in Spencer Circuit Court late last week on King's motion for a new trial.

During the hearing, Louisville Detective Barron Morgan also testified that KSP Detective Todd Harwood, who had worked the case against King in 2008, was trying to discourage the new potential suspect from standing by his confession.

In a recorded interview played at the hearing, the man, Richard Thomas Jarrell Jr., told Morgan that Harwood had visited him in jail and told him he had an "airtight" case against King and that she would be released from prison soon anyway.

"This guy was so disappointed ... because he was going to be wrong about his case," Jarrell told Morgan in the recording.

"He was trying to talk you out of saying anything?" Morgan asked.

"Yes, yes," Jarrell said.

Testifying Friday, Harwood denied he tried to stifle Jarrell's confession. He was unable to produce a recording of his interview with Jarrell, however, having reported to his superiors that his digital tape recorder containing the interview had disappeared from the Campbellsville KSP post.

Capt. David Jude, a KSP spokesman, declined to comment on the case.

But testifying at the hearing, Harwood's supervisor, Lt. Jeff Medley, confirmed that his captain ordered him to ask Louisville Metro Police commanders to call off Morgan because "he hadn't investigated the case and didn't know all the facts."

Morgan contacted the Innocence Project only after consulting his supervisors and local prosecutors. Louisville Deputy Chief Vince Robison said Morgan "had done the right thing because he thought there may be an innocent person" in prison. But Robison said LMPD understood KSP's position and decided to comply with the request.

Medley and Harwood testified that they are still investigating whether Jarrell - and not King - may have killed Kyle "Deanie" Breeden in October 1998. But they said they found a number of inconsistencies between Jarrell's version of the murder and the known facts of the case.

The most obvious, they said, was Jarrell's claim that he killed Breeden in broad daylight; Harwood testified that at least four witnesses saw him after dark on the day he disappeared.

With members of King and Breeden's families in the courtroom, Medley also testified that Jarrell, a previously convicted felon from Louisville who is being held by the Louisville Metro Corrections Department awaiting trial for attempted murder, recanted his confession in June, about six weeks after he made it.

In the recantation, which was played at the hearing, Jarrell said he falsely claimed to have killed Breeden to try to win leniency for his brother, who was arrested last fall in Arkansas and charged with trafficking in 22 kilograms of cocaine.

There's no evidence that Jarrell knew Breeden except for Jarrell's assertion that they knew each other.

Breeden, 40, a plumber, disappeared in October 1998, and his body was found the next month in the Kentucky River.

The crime went unsolved for eight years - despite the efforts of seven KSP detectives and troopers. But after Harwood was assigned it as a cold case in 2006, it took him just 18 days to identify King as his chief suspect, according to court records.

Harwood contended that King killed Breeden, her on-again, off-again boyfriend, in her home during a domestic argument and threw his body off a bridge - though she weighed only about 100 pounds at the time and has only one leg.

Harwood cited evidence that included a bullet and blood found in King's kitchen floor, although forensics examiners later found the blood could have belonged to half of all men and the bullet didn't match the ones used to kill Breeden.

Still, facing the possibility of life in prison if convicted of murder at trial, and on the advice of her then-lawyer, King entered an Alford plea to second-degree manslaughter and accepted a 10-year sentence, maintaining her innocence but acknowledging there was sufficient evidence to convict her.

Her supporters, including Linda A. Smith, director of the Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy's Innocence Project, who now represents her, said it was implausible that King could have disposed of the body as theorized by Harwood, because of her physical limitations.

And the Innocence Project already was working on her case when Jarrell was arrested in Louisville on May 3 for an unrelated shooting and told police he killed Breeden.

In the motion asking Spencer Circuit Judge Charles Hickman for an exoneration or new trial, Smith said that the original evidence against King, currently at the Kentucky Correctional Institution for Women near Pewee Valley, was "anemic" and that Jarrell was able to offer details about Breeden's death that would only be known to the killer.

Jarrell, who initially told Louisville police he shot Breeden because he had stolen $20 from him, refused to testify at the hearing, citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

But Smith showed that Jarrell correctly told Louisville police that Breeden was shot twice in the head; that neither bullet exited; that he was wearing white tennis shoes and blue jeans; that he was tied up with a guitar amplifier cord; and that the crime occurred on Jarrell's 21st birthday.

Morgan and other witnesses, including other Louisville police detectives, also were able to verify Jarrell's claims to have shot at four other people in three incidents - including a Henry County garbage collector who allegedly tried to steal his Rottweiler.

But in his recantation, Jarrell told Medley that he had researched the case four or five years ago on the Internet.

And Harwood, questioned by Assistant Spencer County Commonwealth's Attorney David Nutgrass, testified that Jarrell's story didn't match the facts in several respects:

Jarrell said he was driving an Oldsmobile Toronado, but records show that neither he nor any of his family members ever owned one. He said it was cold on the day he killed Breeden, while weather records show it got up to 75 degrees. He said Breeden weighed 230 or 240 pounds, when he weighed about 190. He said the bridge he threw Breeden off of was "lit up," but Harwood said there were no lights on it.

Harwood also said Jarrell's story was fishy because he said he got the guitar amplifier cord used to tie the body from Breeden - while Harwood said Breeden's friends and family said he didn't play the guitar or any other instrument.

And Harwood testified that the cord was too short - less than 6 feet - and couldn't have been used to wrap up Breeden's body as described by Jarrell.

On cross examination, however, Harwood was forced to admit he got those last two points wrong. A friend of Breeden's - a corrections officer - had told detectives during the original investigation that Breeden did play guitar. And according to Harwood's own notes in the file, the cord was at least 10 feet long.

Under state court rules, to win a new trial King will have to show that if her new evidence - Jarrell's confession - had been presented originally, it would have with "reasonable certainty" changed the result.

Hickman ordered both sides to present their closing arguments in briefs, the last of which is due Aug. 17.

After he denied King's request to be released from prison in the meantime, she sat sobbing in the courtroom.