“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 was talking to a colleague the other day about how many innocent people I believe Tom Handy, former Commonwealth Attorney for Knox and Laurel counties, Kentucky, has wrongfully prosecuted: approximately half a dozen or so men and women I’ve uncovered so far. My friend made the comment, “Sometimes people just go bad.”
I believe Tom Handy was bad from the beginning.
The Defendant in the following documents (whose name I’ve redacted because he’s been through enough already) was, in my opinion, framed for an armed robbery he did not commit by Troopers Roland Huckabee and Jimmy Phelps (AKA Jimmie Phelps) . This theory is supported by the fact The Defendant received a letter from the alleged victim of the robbery stating that the victim “was sorry for causing (The Defendant) all that trouble and was going to drop the charges.”
It’s my opinion victims don’t normally write apology letters to the armed robber that held them up.
Furthermore, The Defendant, while young, 18 to be exact, had become successful financially and professionally: he owned his own body shop, ran a small trucking service comprised of three trucks, and had been made president of another hauling company. He had no reason to rob someone of $40 at gunpoint.
I think small-town, small-minded jealousy played a large part in getting The Defendant indicted for a crime I believe he did not commit. (As you will find out, not once, but twice.)
Would it surprise you to learn Officer Jimmy Phelps was not on duty when he and Trooper Huckabee went to The Defendant’s home with the alleged victim to accuse him of armed robbery? In fact, court testimony from the London City Police Chief Albert Davis affirms Jimmy Phelps would not have been on official business for the City of London at that time. In fact, Jimmy Phelps wasn’t scheduled to work that day at all. So what was he doing there?
The Defendant was asked under oath, “Has there been trouble in the past between you and Trooper Huckabee and you and city policeman Phelps?” and “Has Trooper Huckabee told you directly that he was going to ‘get you one way or the other?'” and “Did also city policeman Phelps tell you in words or substance that he was going to ‘get you’ also?” The Defendant answered “YES” each time.
Allegedly, the victim was “signaled” by a car on Interstate 75 to pull over on the side of the road, where he was then robbed at gunpoint.
Reading the alleged victim’s statement to police, I find it hard to believe The Defendant is going to turn around in the median, a maneuver reserved for law enforcement/public safety vehicles, then be confident enough to pull off and drive through the weigh station and back onto the highway, all to commit an armed robbery that anyone driving by is going to see immediately. I believe the vehicle had no fear of driving through the median and pulling off through the weigh station, actions performed by law enforcement, because the vehicle that “signaled” the alleged victim to pull over, was indeed law enforcement.
Not The Defendant.
Theory: you’re a 21-year old college student. You’re alone on the side of the road with people who wield enormous power over you. You’re hundreds of miles away from home in the wilds of southeast Kentucky. Your only thought is getting out of there in one piece. Are you going to do what these powerful people say? Maybe you were speeding. Maybe you swerved a little changing the radio station. Maybe you had a joint in the car. Whatever you did, you garnered the wrong people’s attention, and now you’re left with very little choice but to comply.
“I was traveling down Interstate 75 going south, and as I approached the scales on the interstate I noticed a car that was in the northbound lane and crossed the median and turned in the southbound lane, and proceeded south ahead of me. It turned off and went up into the scales and as I went south on the interstate, it came out…and pulled in behind me.”
True to the theme I’ve been emphasizing, you just can’t make this stuff up: the alleged robbery victim then drove to Tom Handy’s hotel, the Ramada, to report this alleged armed robbery on the highway.
At this point in time, Tom Handy is not yet a Commonwealth Attorney. He is a defense attorney. The Defendant hires Tom Handy, defense attorney, to represent him on the armed robbery charge. Tom Handy does so, right up until the trial.
Before it is time for The Defendant to actually go to trial for the armed robbery, a couple things happen: one, he is wrongfully charged with the murders of two businessmen, Horace Gill and Curtis Wilbur Murphy from Lakeland, Florida who were in Kentucky hoping to ride the coal boom, and two, his defense attorney Tom Handy, was made Assistant Commonwealth Attorney.
So the defense attorney, Tom Handy, not only abandons his client, The Defendant, who is on trial for an armed robbery I believe he did not commit, Handy goes to work for the very office prosecuting The Defendant for that armed robbery, an office now also pursuing a wrongful murder charge against him.
What is one of the first things Tom Handy does as a new Assistant Commonwealth Attorney for Knox and Laurel counties? He betrays The Defendant, his former client, by providing information about him to law enforcement:
To make matters worse, Tom Handy would go on to prosecute his former client, The Defendant, for these two murders!
The above newspaper article concerns The Defendant’s recanting of a statement that organized crime was involved in the murders of Horace Gill and Curtis Wilbur Murphy (from case file; publisher unknown):
“…a fourth suspect (The Defendant) renounced an earlier statement, saying he was induced by lawyers and attorneys to make the… false statement.
In his renunciation in court Tuesday, (The Defendant) claimed that officials obtained his signature to the statement by promising his leniency.
(The Defendant) testified at the Preliminary Hearing that the Officials threatened him with a longer sentence in another case (clearly the armed robbery case) and promised him leniency if cooperated. He accused a federal agent, a state police detective, two county attorneys, and the assistant commonwealth attorney of deceiving him when he gave a statement to police on July 8. (The Defendant) claimed he was ‘tricked, framed, fooled and deceived.’
‘It’s unfortunate that warrants were issued on the basis of his statement,’ said Tom Handy, Assistant Commonwealth Attorney.”
Tom Handy says it was ‘unfortunate’ that warrants were issued for organized crime gangsters/thugs that were regulars at Handy’s hotel(s): Frank Starkey (AKA Frank Delano Stanley) and Vanis Robbins.
It’s between these two cases, the armed robbery that I believe was not an armed robbery, and the murders of the two Florida businessmen, Gill and Murphy, that we learn Tom Handy did not eventually become corrupted as prosecutor: that horse was out of the barn from the beginning.
The Defendant would be convicted of the armed robbery charge but thankfully found innocent of the murder charges against him, unlike many other innocents who have had the terrible misfortune of crossing Tom Handy’s path since 1976.
If the flagrant disregard by Tom Handy of what’s fair and ethical in the justice system doesn’t anger you, then the conclusion (or lack thereof) of the Horace Gill and Curtis Wilbur Murphy double homicide case will. I believe Kentucky State Police and Tom Handy determined the true murderer of these men. But instead of an arrest and pursuing a case, the file was instead marked “closed.”
Note: the viable suspect had to take three separate polygraph tests before law enforcement could finally pronounce him “truthful.”
It’s clear Tom Handy and the KSP had the power to pursue a viable suspect for the Gill-Murphy double murder, but justice for these two businessmen was reduced to a polygraph test that had to be repeated three times to get a passing result for the suspect, who was then allowed to go free.
In less than half a page, the Kentucky State Police began cementing Tom Handy’s long, corrupt career as Commonwealth Attorney of Knox and Laurel counties, instead of upholding their core values, principles, and code of ethics:
“As a law enforcement officer, my fundamental duty is to serve mankind; to safeguard lives and property; to protect the innocent against deception, the weak against oppression or intimidation, and the peaceful against violence or disorder; and to respect the constitutional rights of all persons to liberty, equality and justice.”
As it would turn out, Vance Mills’ name would be mentioned one time in all the court proceedings against Delmar Partin for the murder of Betty Carnes. What I’m sure most court spectators heard as an innocuous statement, I see it as a gateway to the truth as to what really happened to this 37-year-old mother.
Betty Carnes’ husband, Phillip Carnes, had just begun working at a store owned by Vance Mills a few weeks before his wife’s killing.
Phillip Carnes’ boss at this store was Donnie Baker. The same Donnie Baker who had been charged with hiring out the Black Horse Lounge arson hit in 1989; Baker was out on appeal when Betty was murdered. Approximately a month and a half after the murder, Donnie Baker’s appeal for the arson conviction was rejected and he was sent to prison for 15 years. At least it was so ordered at the time.
Now, before his wife’s murder, Phillip may have been having employment issues due to a bad back. He states in court transcripts he had held a couple of different jobs within the last year or so, and that his new job was with “Judy Baker’s husband.” It does sound like his potential to earn income was being affected by his health. He testified under questioning by Delmar Partin’s attorney, Gary Crabtree, that:
“Donnie had leased the store off of Vance Mills…I talked to him about it and he said he would let me try it because I have, I have quite a bit of problems with my back and I have certain problems about if I stand for a while or sit for a while, or if I do certain things, you know…I told him [Baker] I would try, I would try that job to see if I could do that job.”
Incidentally, I would also discover Judy Baker and Betty Carnes had been close friends at one time; Judy Baker used to work at Tremco. However, Judy was not working at Tremco when Betty was killed, and Judy stated their friendship had cooled after the birth of Judy’s son.
Phillip Carnes’ connection to Vance Mills and Donnie Baker is significant, as well as his wife’s friendship with Donnie Baker’s spouse, Judy. Remember, Mills had been under investigation for importing “large quantities of marijuana and cocaine from Mexico to the United States.” It’s very possible that as Judy Baker’s friend and confidant, Betty may have been privy to many secrets concerning Vance Mills and Donnie Baker’s ventures together.
At any rate, Phillip Carnes, who was already having employment trouble, begins a new career at a store owned and ran by hardened criminals. Sounds like something law enforcement should look into, doesn’t it?
They did not.
Remember, all that is required in a cover-up is for people like the Kentucky State Police and Tom Handy to not investigate, that which they should have investigated. I can confidently say the Betty Carnes murder was covered-up and this is why:
Tom Handy, the man who prosecuted Delmar Partin for a crime he did not commit, never told anyone, not the judge, not the defense attorneys, and not the jury, that Phillip Carnes’ boss, Donnie Baker, was a violent criminal for hiring out the arson of the Black Horse Lounge in June of 1989.
Tom Handy further participated in a cover-up when he did not disclose Phillip Carnes’ boss, Donnie Baker, was working as a criminal informant for his office and the Kentucky State Police during the time of Betty’s murder. The Knox County Commonwealth Attorney wrote an affidavit to the Henderson County court in the spring of 1994 advocating Baker’s early release from prison because of that relationship. It worked. Baker was relieved of his 15 year sentence for arson-for-hire and was paroled a little over a year later.
Even Delmar Partin’s own defense attorney, Gary Crabtree, had to have known about Donnie Baker’s violent past and relationship with Tom Handy: Michael Goforth, Gary Crabtree’s law partner, was Donnie Baker’s attorney who prepared the document for shock probation for the arson conviction which included the Commonwealth’s affidavit. This all while the Crabtree and Goforth firm is supposed to be providing the best representation they can offer to Delmar.
Remember what the son of the prosecutor in the arson case said about Donnie Baker:
“I know that ring that was involved in that Black Horse thing, it was a Eastern Kentucky group that had moved over and was using the Black Horse as a front. And they were a pretty dangerous group…we were pretty convinced at that point that they were, that there was, they were at least planning some sort of assassination attempt on my father, to the point where the police wanted him to wear a bulletproof vest into court…”
At the scene of the crime…
I wish I could say this was the only disturbing twist to the story, but what I’m about to tell you? That’s only the tip of the iceberg.
Donnie Baker was with the coroner Jerry Garland, at the Tremco factory for hours that night while the victim was missing, and before the body was found. Let me re-iterate that: a violent criminal was with the Knox County coroner (who, incidentally, would never be called to testify) that night at the factory while Betty was missing, hours before her body would be discovered. One eyewitness told me:
“Everybody was wondering what Jerry Garland was doing there when there hadn’t been a body. And Donnie, you know, he had no business whatsoever cause he wasn’t a cop, or a coroner, or nothing…”
Why do you think Donnie Baker and Jerry Garland were there together? Jerry Garland, an oil man, was far from being pure as the driven snow. His partner in G&M Oil was none other than Vance Mills. Rumors of prostitution and gambling at Garland’s gas stations were rampant, at one point even earning him charges of promoting gambling.
Are you still inclined to believe Delmar Partin committed this crime?
Noteworthy financial transactions after the Betty Carnes murder
It’s possible these transactions were entirely coincidental in regards to the timeframe of Betty’s murder. Therefore it is also possible they were not coincidental. The financial players are significant, the timing is significant and in the interest of scrutiny, I think notable enough to mention here.
A little over a month after Betty’s murder, Donnie and Judy Baker buy a pretty expensive property in Lancaster, Kentucky:
And then, nine months later, it appears they sell the same property to Vance Mills’ and Jerry Garland’s oil company, G&M Oil, for a profit of what appears to be approximately $27,000.
Coincidence? Entirely plausible. Did the original loan to purchase the property come from Vance Mill’s bank, American Fidelity? That’s another great question we may eventually be able to answer.
The other financial transactions that left me scratching my head have to do with Tom Handy, the prosecutor himself. Handy owned the Holly Bay Marina on Laurel Lake with his brother. Within three months of the murder trial ending, owners of a neighboring marina had drawn up papers incorporating the name “Holly Bay Marina and Resort,” indicating the property was no longer or was soon to be no longer in the Handys’ possession.
Now I’m sure this is all entirely coincidental, but it turns out the family who would succeed the Handys as owners of Holly Bay, also sold explosives under the name of a business called “Farmer’s Supply.” That is not that eyebrow-raising; being in coal country, explosives are necessary. What is fascinating is that trial transcripts indicate the original barrel that held Betty’s body would end up being taken to a magazine at Farmer’s Supply. (A magazine was where explosives were held in storage.) Why was the barrel taken here of all places? What, if anything, was in the barrel when it was taken there?
Did Jerry Garland own this property and merely lease it to Farmer’s Supply? Note: J.M. Hall is kin to these business owners:
Even though the owners of the neighboring marina (and Farmer’s Supply) obviously have experience running a boat dock, they still paid a $50,000 “consultant on goodwill” fee to Tom Handy himself after they took over his family’s marina.
Again, I’m sure all these connections are coincidental. But notable, nonetheless, just for the sheer fact all have some uncanny link to the murder of Betty Carnes.
Lingering questions someone needs to ask
What father allows his teenage daughter to make a missing persons report about her mother, his wife, and doesn’t even accompany her to the police station?
What father would let his teenage daughter accompany two other, defenseless women, in the middle of the night, to a man’s home he believed kidnapped his wife, to accuse that man of such a crime? What father would do that? I don’t think any parent would do that. I think Phillip Carnes knew from the start Delmar Partin was never a threat to anyone. It’s the only thing that makes sense.
It was cold, but not blustery when the plane touched down at the small airport in Madison County around 1:30 that morning. Hardly an hour passed before it was airborne again, slipping into the night without a trace.
The next day, the sniper killing of nightclub owner Monroe Brock would dominate the local news and locals’ conversation. Rumors were rampant the hit was related to organized crime, Las Vegas, and an unpaid debt. Investigators claimed they were unable to find a link.
To this day, the murder of the Maverick Club’s Monroe Brock remains unsolved. The question is, why? Did investigators refuse to investigate, that which they should have investigated? Has the murder of Monroe Brock been covered up by local, state and even federal authorities?
A Kentucky Secretary of State records search returned two interesting business records: two separate business entities had been formed in the state, both carrying the name ‘Maverick Club, Inc.’ The first, formed by Monroe Brock in 1979, was administratively dissolved by the Commonwealth for failure to file its annual report in October of 1987, which is understandable, considering the stress the wife must have been under that year. She would continue to operate the club until selling out a few years later, despite the revocation of authority to do business by the state.
What’s notable is the second business record that turned up for the Maverick Club, Inc. In May of 1988, three men, Donnie Baker, Ronnie Messer and Michael Warren are listed as directors of this second corporation, with their principal office and registered agent (also Michael Warren) listing an address in Barbourville, Kentucky. I had seen those names before. They had all turned up in my research of the wrongful conviction of Delmar Partin for the murder of Betty Carnes; also in Barbourville. I felt there had to be a connection to Brock’s death.
I don’t think anyone is going to get too upset with me talking about Donnie Baker (aka Donald Earl Baker) being a drug dealer. You had to have lived under a rock to have not known. What’s notable is his association to Vance Mills, the local Barbourville millionaire I mentioned earlier whose unexplained presence couldn’t be missed at Delmar Partin’s trial for the murder of Betty Carnes. Herman Levance Mills, as he was formally known, would incidentally turn out to be under investigation for the international trafficking of narcotics:
Welcome to the rats’ nest.
It should be pretty apparent at this point we’re dealing with organized crime. You’ll hear more about Vance Mills’ and Donnie Baker’s relationship later. But for now, let’s focus on Baker, one of the members listed on ownership records of the second Maverick Club, Inc.
Donnie Baker had also been involved with another bar, this one in Henderson County, northern Kentucky, called The Black Horse Lounge. The property was owned by Elvie Cobb, a very good, yet controversial friend, of the former governor of Kentucky, John Y. Brown Jr.:
June 6, 1989: The Black Horse Lounge burns. Arson completely destroys the structure. Donnie Baker is charged and found guilty of arson for hire, what should be a mandatory 15 year sentence. (I’ll talk more about that in a future post.)
The son of the Commonwealth Attorney that prosecuted Baker and his associates said it was a pretty scary time for his family. In high school at the time, he said the crime ring Baker had ties to was so dangerous, his dad had to wear a bullet proof vest to and from court every day. He said Baker’s associates were an Eastern Kentucky group who had moved into northern Kentucky to use the Black Horse Lounge as a front.
You can see why finding Donnie Baker’s name on these documents for a newly formed Maverick Club after Monroe Brock’s murder grabbed my attention.
Michael Warren, another member of the mysterious Maverick Club “No. 2,” is another questionable, albeit colorful figure:
And the third member of the latter-formed Maverick Club, Inc. is Ronnie Messer:
Most telling however, is that Vance Mills himself was an associate of John D. Sword, at one point forming a partnership to build a nursing home together. John Sword and Monroe Brock were directors of the Professional Billiards Association in Richmond, Kentucky together. Even more importantly, John Sword is listed as Brock’s spouse’s attorney in another business venture, Maverick Liquors.
Starting out at 54 seats, The Maverick Club would eventually have the ability to entertain 900 people under its roof, booking the likes of country greats like George Jones and Jerry Lee Lewis. It was also a raucous place, as this article from 1983 suggests:
If you were an organized crime ring, looking for fronts to do business out of, you might find the Maverick Club an attractive location for drug dealing, money laundering, and other unsavory activities.
Brock’s widow said at one point after her husband’s death, some “out-of-towners” wanted to buy the nightclub from her, but she refused. Were these out-of-towners none other than Baker, Warren and Messer?
Monroe Brock’s unsolved but hardly mysterious murder has the tracks of my southeastern Kentucky’s rats’ nest all over it. I am absolutely confused how authorities can claim to have no leads on the case.
If Baker, Warren and Messer are the out-of-towners who wanted to buy the bar from the widowed spouse of Monroe Brock, why were they so damned sure they were going to get their hands on that club? They went to the trouble to form legal paperwork and file it with the secretary of state, for Pete’s sake. In their minds, the transfer of that bar from the spouse of the murdered owner to their control was clearly a done deal. What made them so confident?
The one part of this story that always amazed me, was the willingness of the widowed spouse to take her children out into the black night, not knowing where the sniper was or if he might strike again, in order to get help for her fallen husband, who was said to have been shot execution-style.
She and the children would ultimately be safe. It truly was a testament to the lengths a woman will go to, no matter how terrifying.
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.
A good juror…
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
“How can this possibly be another body?”
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.
Do the dental records match?
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.
Dr. Nichols’ statements only beget new questions.
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?