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TAYLORSVILLE – A Mount Eden woman serving time for killing a Shelbyville man in 1998 will not get a new trial, despite another man's confession and later recantation, to the murder, according to an opinion and order entered in Spencer Circuit Court last Friday by Circuit Judge Charles Hickman.
Susan Jean King, 52, of the 2000 block of Van Buren Road, was indicted on murder charges for the death of Kyle “Deanie” Breeden in April 2007.
Two months after the initial indictment, a grand jury also charged King with tampering with physical evidence.
In September 2008, King entered the amended plea of second-degree manslaughter pursuant to North Carolina v. Alford — meaning she did not admit guilt, but she believed there was enough evidence against her that a jury could find her guilty. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
But, in May of this year, someone else admitted killing Breeden, and King’s attorney, Linda A. Smith of the state’s Innocence Project, entered a motion for a new trial.
Richard Thomas Jarrell Jr., 34, most recently of south Louisville, admitted to Louisville Metro Police that he killed Breeden – and could offer specific details in the case – while being questioned in May about an unrelated incident.
He wrote that because King's case was resolved with an Alford plea, the rules for a new trial don't apply – there was never a trial to begin with.
"The Court finds that King's guilty plea pursuant to North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25 (1970) was entered voluntarily and intelligently, and finds no grounds upon which this plea should be vacated...," Hickman writes. "A motion for a 'new' trial logically suggests that there was an 'old' trial, and that is not the case herein.”
Hickman’s opinion also, however, addressed the potential impact at trial that Jarrell’s testimony could have.
"If King had a prior trial, rather than entered an Alford plea, the Court agrees that Jarrell's confession would be evidence that ‘with reasonable certainty, change the verdict or probably change the result, if a new trial was granted,’” he wrote. “Jarrell was completely unknown to King, law enforcement, or the Commonwealth as having any connection to the murder of Breeden prior to his May 4 confession, and his alleged involvement could not have been discovered in the exercise of due diligence. The court simply finds it inappropriate to apply a ‘new trial’ standard to the current action, as that would be creating a fiction about the procedural history of this case."
Hickman had spent the bulk of two days in July hearing evidence regarding the motion for a new trial and, because of the length of the hearing, asked Smith and the Commonwealth Attorney’s office to submit their closing arguments in post-hearing briefs.
Hickman's opinion and order was entered exactly six weeks after the second brief was filed in the circuit court clerk's office.
In her brief, Smith says that this court does not need to decide whether King is innocent and Jarrell is guilty, but whether “Jarrell’s detailed confessions [are] evidence that is of such a decisive value that it would with reasonable certainty change the result.”
In the brief filed by the Commonwealth Attorney’s office, Assistant Commonwealth Attorney David Nutgrass argues that the motion for the new trial should be denied, noting that King is actually not asking for a new trial, but a first trial since she is currently incarcerated because she entered an Alford plea.
Hickman ultimately agreed with Nutgrass' argument and also in his opinion addressed inconsistencies in Jarrell's story, as well as the fact that he recanted his confession several weeks after making it.
"The inconsistencies and the recantation of the confession by Jarrell, naturally, diminish the credibility of his confession," Hickman writes. "The Court does not know if Jarrell was being truthful when he made his confession or if he was truthful when he recanted that confession."
Based on the 2-day evidentiary hearing and the information represented, the motion for a new trial was overruled.
"There was no verdict in this action that could potentially be changed," Hickman wrote. "There was a guilty plea that resulted from a plea agreement negotiated with the Commonwealth."
King remains in custody at the Kentucky Correctional Institution for Women in Pewee Valley.