What we think: Old Shelby murder case needs new look

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Susan King has faiiled in her attempt to get the murder to which she enetered an Alford Plea reopened. We think there needs to be a trial.

Did Susan King of Mount Eden murder her former boyfriend Kyle “Deanie” Breeden of Shelbyville in 1998?

That question, which for years haunted investigators and Mr. Breeden’s family, was thought to be at rest in 2008, when Ms. King was sent to prison.

But now we have our own new set of questions about this case, including not only how the investigation has been handled but also who has a responsibility to ensure that Ms. King in fact did commit this crime.

What is badly needed is a trial – to hear all the evidence and consider all the possibilities – but because of Ms. King’s plea agreement and a ruling recently by Circuit Judge Charles Hickman, there appears little opportunity that such a clarifying and necessary process might take place.

Ms. King has been serving the 10-year sentence to which she agreed when she entered an Alford Plea in the case, meaning she didn’t admit that she was responsible for Mr. Breeden’s death but that she acknowledged the evidence appeared sufficient to convict her at trial on a charge of second-degree manslaughter.

Earlier this year, however, Richard Thomas Jarrell Jr. came forward during the investigation of an unrelated crime and told Louisville Metro Police Det. Barron Morgan that he in fact had killed Mr. Breeden.

Det. Morgan was moved to contact Ms. King’s attorneys at the Kentucky Innocence Project and inform them of these new developments, which is when Judge Hickman became involved to consider in Spencer Circuit Court a petition from Ms. King’s attorneys to order a new trial.

But Judge Hickman ruled that there could be no new trial because there never had been an original trial. Ms. King’s plea arrangement had set that aside, and he couldn’t change that mitigating fact.

But he also added this key statement to his ruling:

“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.’ 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.”

We can’t quarrel with Judge Hickman’s ruling based on the Alford Plea, but we can quarrel with whether the new information about Ms. King’s case has been given proper consideration by all those involved.

What you may not know are troubling aspects of the case that happened outside the courtroom and were not part of the evidence considered by Judge Hickman.

The Courier-Journal reported that in the course of this process there has been a spat among the LMPD and the Kentucky State Police, which originally investigated and charged Ms. King, that raises sincere question about the authenticity of these agencies in their prosecution of this case. Consider these details as reported by The Courier-Journal:

§   That the case in Mr. Breeden’s murder was “cold” for 8 years until KSP Det. Todd Harwood took it over and in 18 days had identified Ms. King as his primary subject. She ultimately was arrested and ultimately sentenced.

  • That there was a conflict between the two agencies when it was learned that Det. Morgan had turned over this new admission by Mr. Jarrell to Ms. King’s attorneys. Det. Harwood visited Mr. Jarrell in his cell and tried to dissuade him from making his confession.
  • That after this case had been heard in court, LMPD reassigned Det. Morgan from the Narcotics division to overnight street patrol in a major reorganization.
  • That at times higher ups at LMPD apologized to KSP for Det. Morgan’s actions but at other times they did not and said only that he had moved too quickly. Det. Morgan has said he acted with approval from his supervisor and is suing LMPD about what he considers a retaliatory transfer to the street.

We never have abided the sometimes ego-driven relationships among law enforcement agencies, but we think there are vital questions in this case that deserve real answers.

We want to understand the broad spectrum of evidence that KSP detectives uncovered in a few scant months after their 10 years of futility, almost as if their work had been plotted and penned by crime novelist Michael Connelly.

We want a jury to hear Mr. Jarrell’s admission and understand the nuance of that statement to investigators. How and why did he kill Mr. Breeden? What is the evidence that persuaded Ms. King’s plea?

We want to know why law enforcement is not reopening this case and pursuing all possibilities but is content to have Ms. King serve out her time while these questions remain.

In fact, we wonder about those agencies’ reaction to Judge Hickman’s comments to that point:

"Detective Morgan was advised that he should contact the Innocence Project with the Department for Public Advocacy, to provide them with the information obtained from Jarrell. The Court finds that Detective Morgan, and his superiors at LMPD, should be commended for acting with integrity and in the interests of justice by swiftly conveying the information about Jarrell to the Innocence Project."

But, primarily, we would like for Mr. Breeden’s family to know with absolutely certainty that there was justice served to close this awful incident in their lives.

There are no heroes here. There is nothing that is going to make that death go away, nothing to return life or lives to those involved. There are no victories to be won, no tallies to be undone.

What we have here is a chance to ensure that justice was served, that right was not wrong.

That’s all we ever want in any crime, and that’s all everyone ever should want.

We don’t know what has to happen for Ms. King’s case to receive the glow of public light on all these factors, but we hope that approach can be found, addressed and completed. With all due speed. Because if she’s going to spend another day in prison, we want to be sure that she is supposed to be there.

Until then, we are going to have our doubts.