The date on this letter to the editor appears to be December 22, 1994.
The date on this letter to the editor appears to be December 22, 1994.
I was mystified how any jury could convict a man with no physical evidence, no time to commit the murder, and clearly contradictory statements given by testifying witnesses.
I felt the jury had somehow been compromised.
Because I was not from the area, I knew I would have a hard time getting the people of Knox County to open up to me about any relationships these jurors might have had with people involved in this case. Under voir dire, prospective jury members are supposed to disclose any connections or ties to the defendant, the victims family, the Commonwealth Attorney’s office, law enforcement, and witnesses:
People v. Cangiano, 131 Misc. 2d 930, 931 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1986) “One of the basic functions of voir dire is to determine whether any of the prospective jurors is related to or knows one of the parties or lawyers in the case or a prospective witness.”
So I went another direction.
First, the jury qualification form asks the potential jurors, ” Has a claim for $500 or more ever been made against you or a member of your family?” Mr. Ken Long had marked “no,” but court papers show he and his wife filed for bankruptcy in 1991, with the case being closed in September of 1994, about a month after the end of the murder trial.
When prospective jurors gathered at the courthouse, the judge, Roderick Messer, under voir dire questioning, asked potential jury members if they, or a family member, have ever participated in a criminal case either as a witness, a defendant, or in any other capacity.
How many of them were truthful?
Take Joseph Kush. Married to C. Faye Kush, who was listed as a defendant on a federal tax evasion case filed in March of 1994, Kush would be chosen as a jury member for Delmar Partin’s trial in August of 1994.
Or Christine Branstutter Smith, also chosen as a jury member for the Partin trial. Her brother, Lewis Branstutter, was charged with attempted murder and robbery in 1984, then later was indicted in a fuel-tax fraud scheme in 1990. The December 11, 1990 Corbin Times Tribune newspaper states that the indictments in the scheme “resulted from a two-year investigation by the Kentucky State Police; the Internal Revenue Service; Tom Handy, commonwealth’s attorney for Knox and Laurel counties; and the U.S. attorney’s office.” Didn’t Tom Handy recognize the Branstutter name at any point during the jury selection process?
Neither Kush nor Branstutter Smith disclosed to the judge or attorneys during voir dire that they had relatives who indeed had been, or were, defendants in criminal cases. Why? In the end, these two jury members would be chosen as alternates and would not end up deciding Delmar Partin’s fate. However, it is still very troubling why they would not disclose these facts under voir dire when required to do so.
Juror Glenda Lickliter, however, was a seated jury member. Not only was she not truthful under voir dire questioning, ultimately leading to her seat on the jury, did she purposefully omit information on her jury qualification form in order to help secure that seat on the jury?
The jury qualification form asks potential jurors to “list all members of your immediate family by relationship.” Lickliter lists two daughters and a son. But there is one son missing from her list: court records show he was charged with theft by unlawful taking in 1989. (At that time, he was living with his parents, according to the Kentucky State Police file.) Then, in December of 1993, he was charged again, this time with “theft by failure to make required disposition.” Why wasn’t his name included on the jury qualification form with his brother and sisters? Why didn’t Lickliter disclose this son had been involved in criminal cases when questioned under voir dire?
Furthermore, Judge Roderick Messer asks potential jurors, “Have you or any of your family members been the victim of a crime?”
The same son that Lickliter failed to disclose to the judge and attorneys was involved in criminal cases, was also the victim in a “terroristic threatening” case filed in November of 1993. Lickliter never disclosed that information either.
It was clear Delmar Partin’s right to a fair jury trial was denied. Disclosing this information under voir dire would not have necessarily disqualified Lickliter from serving on the jury. What it did do, however, was prevent Delmar Partin’s defense attorneys from probing potential biases she may have had against someone in Partin’s position: biases formed by her own experiences she may have had in dealing with her son.
It would be three years after my initial research into Glenda Lickliter’s voir dire answers that I would unearth the most fascinating discovery of all about this juror: she and her husband are named in one Billy Don Giles’ obituary: they are called a “special brother and sister in Christ,” indicating a close friendship with Mr. Giles. Mr. Giles’ sister is Bonnie Sue Giles Anders, best friends with Karla Espinal, girlfriend-turned-federal-informant to well-known drug kingpin Jerry Allen Lequire, who spent 30 years in prison for a Columbian cocaine smuggling operation. You can learn more about Giles-Anders’ role in Jerry Allen Lequire’s formidable enterprise that amassed some $280,000,000 (never found), here.
Even though the connection between the Lickliter family and the Giles is stunning, it was not something that voir dire questioning would have predicated she disclose. Still, this connection is fascinating to me, because I had already started to discover other connections to both Lequire’s and Drew Thornton’s drug empires to the rats’ nest I had stumbled on in southeast Kentucky.
I had the pleasure of speaking with another juror by the name of Geraldine McNeil, who provided insight into the jury deliberation portion of the trial. Here is an excerpt of our conversation:
“I felt it was wrong the whole time, and I was one lone person and I let them push me. I am so sorry. I worried about that forever after it was over, and I didn’t know what to do about it or anything. And I let the rest of them push me to get out of there because they wanted to leave and didn’t want to stay. I was young, I had no jury experience, and if I did wrong, I am so sorry. But I firmly believed that he was not guilty.
I asked her if anyone else in the jury room argued for his innocence, and she said she couldn’t remember, but stated, “I felt like everybody was against me. I felt I should have done something or said something, and I didn’t.”
Put yourself in Geraldine McNeil’s shoes. Was a lonely position to be in.
What if Geraldine McNeil had had an ally in her fight for Partin’s innocence? What if fellow juror Glenda Lickliter’s seat had been filled by someone who was honest under voir dire questioning, someone who didn’t want to send an innocent man to prison, someone who was interested in the truth and not getting home to their own bed? Partin’s fate would most likely have been very, very different than we find it today.
25 years of a man’s life has been taken from him, dishonestly and unjustly.
The problem with wrongful convictions in southeast Kentucky goes well beyond corrupt police officers. This corruption is at the very core of the justice system in southeast Kentucky. How many juries in Knox and Laurel counties over the last 44 years were comprised of people who were not truthful under voir dire questioning? I would wager it is more the norm, than the exception.
The son of Robert Cato made an interesting point in his father’s obituary. (Robert Cato was a defense attorney, at times to organized crime figures. He was also a very good friend of Tom Handy and Judge Roderick Messer.) Cato’s son said this about his father:
“He enjoyed the fact that when you picked a jury in Eastern Kentucky, last names mean something.”
I’ve read several comments in the press now stating DNA testing was not available in 1993 and that is why the former governor of Kentucky pardoned Delmar Partin.
That is not true.
Yes, the governor did pardon Delmar Partin, but here is why:
“given the inability or unwillingness of the state to use existing DNA evidence to either affirm or disprove this conviction.”
Understand this: Bevin is stating the Commonwealth of Kentucky is currently unable or refusing to test existing DNA that could bring closure to the case. It has nothing to do with the availability of DNA testing from the 1990s.
But know this: DNA testing was available at the time of the trial in 1994, and before.
Barbara Wheeler was assigned to the Trace Evidence section of the Kentucky State Police Central Forensic Lab during 1993 and 1994. Wheeler’s training consists of a bachelor’s of science degree, some FBI training and the completion of a course given by the Crime Institute (instructors formerly with the FBI.) Here are several excerpts from her testimony that discuss DNA testing for this murder case:
Barbara Wheeler: I located hair on Exhibit 11 which is two rubber gloves from the barrel of at scene, on Exhibit 14 which is a section of ceiling tile from the scene, on exhibit 18 which is paper towels from the kitchen trash, on exhibit 31 which is a steel pipe, on exhibit 49 which is the shirt form the victim, also on exhibit 26 which is an ice scoop from the scene, there was also head hair fragments on exhibit 6 which is a hair collected from the left hand of the victim (pauses) and there was also hair in exhibit 45 which is one plastic wrapper from the barrel of the scene, and exhibit 56 which is a pocket knife.
Tom Handy: And that’s all the ones where the hair was found, correct?
Wheeler: Yes sir.
Handy: Now look, lets talk about the exhibits of 45 and 56, those are, you said, ‘fragments of hair’?
Barbara Wheeler goes on to explain,
“When I’m referring to a fragment, this means that the hair itself does not contain the root portion, the part that is actually in your scalp. A lot of time if hairs are extremely small or if it is just a fragment they’re too limited for any comparison value. One of the first things that we will do is determine what part of the body that the hair come from and on both of these I was unable to determine a possible body part, and this is one of the things that we use for comparison value or not. Is it head hair, or if it might be a pubic hair, these were too small and too limited in characteristics.”
Handy: Does that same result of fragment being too limited to examine also apply to other fragments found in exhibit 11, 31 and 49 which were rubber gloves, a steel pipe and victim’s shirt?
Wheeler: Yes sir. Some of the hair in exhibit 11, 31 and 49 was also too limited.
Handy: Now were you able to find hair on exhibits that matched the hair standard of Betty Carnes?
Wheeler: Yes sir.
Handy: On what items where those found?
Wheeler: On exhibit 11 which is two rubber gloves form the barrel at the scene, on exhibit 14 which is a section of ceiling tile from the scene, exhibit 18 which is paper towels from kitchen trash, exhibit 31 which is a steel pipe, exhibit 49 which is the shirt from the victim and also head hair fragments in exhibit 26 which was the ice scoop from the scene. These were all similar to Betty Carnes in the barrel, standard: my exhibit 22.
Handy: Are you able to tell this jury how many characteristics of Betty Carnes’ hair you were able to determine in checking the standard? Her standard?
Wheeler: No sir. We don’t have a number value as far as the characteristic that we look for.
Now let’s stop right there. The expert, Barbara Wheeler, says some of the hairs in the kitchen trash matched the head hair standard of Betty Carnes. Sounds terribly damning, doesn’t it?
Not so fast. The use of hair standards as evidentiary proof has resulted in the wrongful convictions of hundreds or thousands of people nationwide. Consider the following:
“The (FBI) agency’s misuse of hair evidence to convict people is “a national tragedy” and a violation of human rights, said Frederic Whitehurst, the whistleblower who revealed scientific misconduct including flawed hair analysis at the FBI laboratory in the 1990s. ‘We go into court with unvalidated science,” Whitehurst said. “We know it’s unvalidated science. The world of science is saying this is not valid, and we actually use this pseudo science against citizens of this nation.'”- Flawed hair evidence leads to convictions, USA Today, April 2017
Or this from law professor Brandon Garrett of University of Virginia:
“When I looked at forensics in DNA exoneree trials, I found more often than not that the testimony was unscientific and flawed. We know that whenever we look at old criminal cases we see flawed forensics wherever we look. And yet hardly any crime labs have bothered to conduct audits. Nor is the problem limited to bad hair cases—much the same type of eyeballed comparison is done on bite marks, ballistics, fibers, and even fingerprints.”
Or this chilling headline from Wisconsin Watch, part of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism:
“FBI admits errors in 90 percent of hair and fiber cases, including 13 in Wisconsin. Such errors are now a factor in one-fifth of all DNA exonerations.”
So what about DNA testing in this case?
Tom Handy: Is there any further testing that could have been conducted on that hair fragments that you have?
Barbara Wheeler: No sir.
Handy: Such as DNA?
Wheeler: If you’re referring to hair fragments, DNA cannot be done on these. To perform DNA analysis on hair you need the root end of the hair with tissue attached, and head hair fragments would not have the root end.
Handy: Did you find hairs there that did not match that of Betty Carnes?
Wheeler: Yes sir.
Handy: And where were those found?
Wheeler: Exhibit 6 which is hair collected from the left hand of the victim, exhibit 14 which is the section of ceiling tile form the scene and exhibit 18 which are paper towels from the kitchen trash.
Handy: So some exhibits had some of different things, some that you could match and some that you could not?
Wheeler: Yes sir.
Under examination by defense attorney William “Big Bill” Johnson, Barbara Wheeler provides more information about the hair collected from the hand of the victim:
Bill Johnson: Item 6 was ‘hair collected from left hand of victim.’ How many hairs were there?
Wheeler: There was one hair.
Johnson: Now this was, could you tell where it was a head hair?
Wheeler: Yes sir.
Johnson: Did it have a root on it?
Wheeler: Yes sir.
Johnson: Now that could have been checked through DNA process?
Wheeler: Yes sir, if there were standards available to compare it to.
Johnson: Did anyone request a DNA test?
Wheeler (looks at notes): Yes, it was on the original 26, a request for examination.
Johnson: Was it examined?
Wheeler: No sir. Not specifically, this item was requested…
Johnson: I’m sorry?
Wheeler: This item in particular was not requested. There were several other blood exhibits that were requested for possible DNA.
Johnson: …and were they tested?
Wheeler: I don’t believe so.
Johnson: Why? If you know…why do you request them and they not be tested if you know?
Wheeler: You have to ask Eddie Taylor the conventional serologist, or, hair analysis would be done first and only then would DNA be done in addition to it and Eddie would know if there was any samples that should have been sent in for DNA.
Let’s talk about Edward Taylor Jr, who was employed by the Kentucky State Police Forensic Lab in Frankfort.
Eddie Taylor states at trial, in addition to his bachelor’s degree, he “also received specialized training. This specialized training was in bio-chemical methods and blood stain analysis and forensic serology, the identification of hairs and fibers. This training was conducted at the FBI academy in Quantico, Virginia.”
Eddie Taylor’s specialized FBI training and Barbara Wheeler’s tutelage under the FBI and instructors formerly employed by the FBI presents a major problem for prosecutors within the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Michael Tennant of The New American, states, “Even if things are cleaned up at the federal level, there is still the problem of the 500 to 1,000 state and local crime-lab analysts who were trained by the same FBI examiners who gave the flawed testimony. Efforts are under way in a number of states to review their hair-examiner cases.”
Those efforts are NOT being made in the state of Kentucky.
So what does forensics expert Eddie Taylor have to say about DNA testing the blood found in the Betty Carnes murder case?
Bill Johnson, defense attorney: Did you conduct or have conducted a DNA examination?
Eddie Taylor: No sir, I did not.
Johnson: Now the DNA examination is an examination or test that can be used to determine the genetic makeup of a substance including blood?
Taylor: Yes sir, that is correct.
Johnson: Was there any reason you did not do a DNA examination?
Taylor: There was first of all, not enough blood or tissue present on anything to conduct an analysis for DNA.
Johnson presses on later in the testimony:
Johnson: Did you ask anyone else to look at it to see if perhaps they could determine the origin?
Taylor: No sir, I did not.
Why didn’t the Commonwealth perform DNA testing in 1993 on the hair with the follicle found in the victim’s hand? More importantly, why won’t they test it now?
You know what is most telling about those at the highest levels of state and federal government who are now shouting for an investigation into Bevin regarding his pardons? They want Bevin investigated- NOT the cases the pardons were given over. Those who protest too much: are they former defense attorneys? Are they trying the deflect investigators from looking too deeply into their own past?
How many on Death Row in Kentucky will someday have the same proclaimed about them as Claude Jones did?
“DNA Test Proves Critical Hair Evidence in a Capital Murder Case Didn’t Match Man Executed.” – The Innocence Project, Cardozo School of Law
Upon leaving office, former governor Bevin stressed that “the state should make every effort to bring final justice for the victim and her family.” The case should now finally be reopened and the true perpetrators sought. If it is not, investigate those who refuse to do so, and find out what they have to lose by this case, or others, being reexamined.
Below is the Kentucky Missing Persons Report submitted by Kim Carnes, daughter of victim Betty Carnes of Barbourville, KY. Note that the daughter indicated the victim wore dentures.
Now compare the missing persons report to the appropriate section of the autopsy:
My hope is these documents speak for themselves and cast further doubt on those responsible for this investigation and prosecution.
Writer and author Matt McGough said it best regarding an unrelated murder case and the corruption of law enforcement:
“‘Covering up’ makes it sound like…something active is required of those detectives to cover something up. A coverup doesn’t require anything active. A coverup requires refusing to investigate what is obvious you have a responsibility to investigate.” (protected under Fair Use doctrine)
*Please note: all records are available to the public via FOIA requests to the appropriate agencies
Someone once told me George Nichols, the former chief medical examiner of Kentucky, was a grade A asshole. So I can’t say his response to my question, “Could the body of Betty Carnes have been switched?” was out of the norm for his personality. But even though I told Dr. Nichols if by small chance this did happen, it would have been through no fault of his own or his office, he was still indignant at my question.
The first indication something seemed screwy with the Carnes autopsy was the examiner’s statement: “The body is that of a…white female appearing to be older than her offered age of 37 years.” Noteworthy because Betty was a beautiful, desirable woman; Delmar was not the first man to be romantically linked to the married mother of three. The autopsy went as far to call the pubic hair “focally gray.” Delmar emphatically tells me, “She did not have the body of an older woman, she was in excellent health and shape.” He says her hair color was the same color all over, and that he never understood the “focally gray” comment in the autopsy.
The height of the victim is also missing in the report. The body also lacked defensive injuries, which could be explained if she was knocked out from behind. But I couldn’t explain what I discovered next.
George Nichols’ autopsy report states the body’s “natural anterior dentition is present and is in excellent repair.” In other words, the body’s front teeth were natural and in good shape. But Delmar says Betty wore a partial front plate, and that her front teeth couldn’t have been natural. Nichols goes on to describe the tip of the tongue (drying) and notes blood is within the mouth. When I question Dr. Nichols’ about the false teeth, he is caught off-guard and says maybe he just missed it. Maybe, I think. I’m starting to get curious, though, how a renowned forensic medical examiner can make a mistake that large, especially when he detailed the inside of her mouth so well.
During our first and only telephone call, he mentions Walter Hopper, the coroner, asked his office to come retrieve the body. But Walter Hopper was not the coroner of Knox County!
Walter Hopper and his family did operate funeral homes. But according to trial transcripts, Betty’s body was not being held at the Hopper family’s funeral homes. The body was at Hampton’s Funeral Home in Barbourville; at the time there was no mortuary for the coroner’s office in Knox County. I can’t explain Walter Hopper’s role in contacting the Kentucky Medical Examiner’s office when he had no official capacity to do so.
The Hopper name had been brought up to me before, by a woman who had worked with Betty. She told me she had heard a rumor: Charles Hopper of Hopper Funeral Home, and Betty were seen together at a nightclub in Cincinnati. Charles was Walter Hopper’s nephew.
I can’t help but feel there is a connection. Especially considering Charles Hopper’s mysterious death three days before Delmar’s trial for Betty’s murder began.
The last time I had any contact from George Nichols was after I emailed him to point out that Hopper was not, in fact, the coroner of Knox County at that time. I received a voicemail from him not long later:
This is Dr. Nichols. I’m calling you as you asked me to. I can tell you that I remember nothing more than what our discussion was. My notes that are available through the M.E. office do not reflect anything…much more than that since it was such time was removed. (?) And the only other person who would know more than that was David Jones, who was my executive assistant, who went and fetched the body and brought it back from London to…uh, um, uh, greater London Kentucky to uh, the Louisville office. David has since died. I gave his eulogy and he’s been buried. So. There’s no other available information. So. You can pursue this as much as you want, but you’ll, there’s nothing I can inform you of that I haven’t already informed you. Sorry. Period. Bye.”
Dr. Nichols’ voicemail message presents another problem for me: the body wasn’t located in London, Kentucky! It was in Barbourville, a forty minute drive and another county away. Barbourville is not a part of the “greater London Kentucky area.”
When I first brought these irregularities with the autopsy to Nichols’ attention, he suggested there was a remedy for sorting it all out: they keep the DNA of every body autopsied on file at the medical examiner’s office. He requested I send him the information I had.
Below is a portion of the letter I sent him:
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to explain why I think the wrong body may have been autopsied. I cannot stress enough this would have been through no fault of you or anyone in your office.
You asked me, “How can this possibly be a different body?”
You mention you knew about traffickers shipping drugs in dead bodies. The same people that can do that to a corpse would have no scruples about switching a body to get away with murder. When I show you the victim’s connection to an international organization that was using the ‘dead body scam’ to ship drugs, you’ll understand why the odd discrepancies in the autopsy are alarming to me.
I believed Nichols’ duty to truth and his profession would compel him to get to the bottom of the discrepancies.
I waited impatiently for a response. When none came, I emailed him to follow up. I called and left a message with his secretary. Still, no response. Only when I sent him the email about Hopper not being coroner did I finally receive the before-mentioned voicemail from him.
Discrepancies in the autopsy aside, my own interaction with Nichols leaves me unsettled. He wants me to believe the answers I seek are dead and buried with his executive assistant, David Jones. Unfortunately, David Jones passed away 10 days after I sent Nichols the follow-up email asking him to contact me concerning the information I sent him.
When I began studying the case of the tragic 1993 murder of Betty Carnes in Barbourville, Kentucky, an interesting piece of information popped up early in my research. A local millionaire, seemingly without any close ties to the victim, displayed an unusual interest in the murder trial. The family of the accused, Delmar Partin, could not understand this businessman’s interest in the trial. I was intrigued. What was the connection between Vance Mills, owner of a local hotel, gas stations, coal companies and even a bank, and beautiful 37 year old factory worker, Betty Carnes?
What I would discover over the next several years would be adequately described by one interviewee as “a rats’ nest” that had been infesting southeast Kentucky for decades.
The first question I usually get asked when I try to talk to people about Partin’s wrongful conviction, is why and how did I get involved? The answer is, purely by chance. I was doing research for this blog when I read a newspaper article about the murder and trial, and it shocked me Partin had got convicted with no physical evidence, clearly not enough time to commit the crime, a tenuous motive and arrested after a mere two hour investigation.
Unfortunately, I have no formal experience in lawyering or investigating, and that hurts my credibility. Maybe that’s why I can’t find any help for Partin. I’ve asked attorneys, private investigators, journalists, even law enforcement. But I don’t discount the fact more than one person in this cast of characters has ties to U.S. Congressman Hal Rogers, occupying the Commonwealth’s seat in the House of Representatives since 1980. Is it a coincidence the crime syndicate I would eventually learn about has been operating in southeast Kentucky for about as long?
The depravity of the individuals involved in this story doesn’t help my credibility. It’s hard to fathom people could be so vicious, so inhumane to other human beings… even harder to believe upstanding members of the community could be involved. When you hear stories like this, you hope the messenger is crazy, that people couldn’t possibly be so evil.
So, in the spirit of meeting crazy head-on, I’ll share one of my more eye-opening conversations with a man who knew some of these Kentucky organized crime characters intimately; in fact he was, at one time, under investigation with them by the FBI. A well-respected upstanding businessman who has given back generously to his community, I trust what he tells me. He was never charged in that investigation. He was horrified when he found out the extent of his associates’ crimes. He despised these men and the evil they did.
He was also a former CIA contractor.
He had mentioned a hit man (Max) that ran a Middlesboro mortuary during one of our conversations, and I decided to bring the subject up again. He responded,
“I’ll never forget that guy, I’ll never forget him. He was probably Renfro’s age at that time. I’ll never forget, Johnny Asher said to me one day, ‘We got it figured out back here. You kill a hog, we could never figure out how to get paid when he squeals. But we learned how to use every part of that hog when we’d kill him. But we could never figure out how to get paid for the squeal.’ I couldn’t figure that out for a long time. What in the heck does he mean by that?
“Then they had offered me, ‘If you ever die, we’ll give you a free funeral. If any of your friends ever die, we’ll give them free funerals.’ Well that’s almost unheard of. That’s real southern hospitality they showed me at the start. I didn’t know they was gonna take these people and stuff them full of guns and drugs and network them through the whole country. That’s what they got caught for. And they didn’t get jail for it! What you are dealing with, it’s pretty serious stuff.”
This is the crime syndicate I believe is responsible for Betty’s Carnes’ murder and the subsequent wrongful conviction of Delmar Partin.
This group also has ties to the unsolved murder of Richmond, Kentucky’s Monroe Brock, former owner of the well-known nightclub, “The Maverick.”
It’s hard to believe so many connections in this story are all coincidences. At what point do we begin to question if there is, indeed a conspiracy?
Tom Handy, Commonwealth Attorney and Partin’s prosecutor, knew there were more likely suspects in the Betty Carnes’ murder case. Why were these suspects not investigated?