LOUISVILLE, Ky. - With her release from prison only weeks away Susan Jean King is anxious to get out, but she wants something else as well: to clear her name in her boyfriend's 1998 slaying, after another convicted felon admitted to police that he's the one who pulled the trigger.
King, 52, plans to ask the Kentucky Court of Appeals to take up her case after a circuit court judge refused to overturn her guilty plea to manslaughter in the death of 40-year-old Kyle "Deanie" Breeden in Spencer County.
She is hoping the court will vacate her plea because of a lack of evidence against her and because of statements made by another man facing charges in Louisville.
Richard Thomas Jarrell Jr., 35, a felon and diagnosed schizophrenic, this year admitted to killing Breeden in what one judge described as "a startling level of detailed facts." However, Jarrell later recanted his statement. He has not been charged with Breeden's killing.
"It really bothers her that she is accused of this and that the real person, the person who actually killed him, has not been prosecuted," said King's attorney, Linda A. Smith with the Kentucky Innocence Project.
Breeden last had contact with his family in Shelbyville on Oct. 26, 1998 and the family reported him missing three days later.
Two fishermen found the missing man's body floating in a stretch of the Kentucky between Gratz and Lockport — about 45 miles from King's home. He had been shot twice in the head and his feet were bound by a guitar amplifier cord.
State police began a murder investigation, but, the probe went dormant for eight years.
Then prosecutors got an indictment against King for first-degree murder. Prosecutors portrayed the relationship between King and Breeden as a tempestuous on-again/off-again affair. The evidence included a bullet and blood found in King's kitchen floor. Forensics examiners later determined the blood could have belonged to half the male population and the bullet didn't match the ones used to kill Breeden.
Prosecutors contend that King shot Breeden at her home and dumped him in the river, even though King, who has one leg, weighed just less than 100 pounds at the time, while Breeden weighed about 170 pounds.
King entered an Alford plea — not admitting guilt, but acknowledging there was enough evidence to convict her of manslaughter — in 2008. She is scheduled for release from the Kentucky Correctional Institute for Women in Pewee Valley on Nov. 30.
Louisville police arrested Jarrell in May in an unrelated case and charged him with shooting at a confidential informant. Detectives say Jarrell, who remained in the Louisville jail on Tuesday, gave "specific and detailed" comments about Breeden's death to Kentucky State Police. He repeated the statement in interviews over the next two weeks and noted that King was serving prison time.
However, Jarrell later recanted his statement, telling investigators on June 21 that he lied about killing Breeden and got information about it on the internet.
To Smith, Jarrell's statements have all the hallmarks of a confession that should clear her client.
"Obviously, his statement and the way he says this murder happened makes a lot more sense," Smith said.
Spencer County Commonwealth Attorney Laura Donnell did not return a message seeking comment Tuesday. Assistant Commonwealth Attorney David Nutgrass, in a motion filed in Spencer Circuit Court, called Jarrell's statements unreliable.
"We all know Richard Jarrell has confessed to killing Dean Breeden," Nutgrass wrote. "We also know that we are almost certainly never going to hear him say it again."
Spencer County Circuit Judge Charles Hickman turned away King's efforts on Monday. Because King pleaded guilty, he ruled, she cannot petition for a new trial.
Smith is hoping the appeals court will clear her client, even though there's no physical evidence definitively linking Jarrell to the crime.
"Her life is obviously ruined at this point," Smith said. "She's starting from scratch."
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