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An Egregious Violation of Justice

W. Scott Cole

Posted on April 16, 2020 13:19

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Those were the words used by a federal judge to describe the conviction of Susan Jean King for the murder of Kylie Dean Breeden in 1998. Ms. King spent almost seven years in prison for a crime she didn’t commit. She says she was framed by a Kentucky State Police officer. Here is yet another case of misconduct sending people to prison.

Most police officers are good men and women doing their best to do a very difficult job. But, like any vocation, there are those who are more interested in advancing their careers at any cost. The system, in trying to protect the good officers, is set up to protect the bad ones, too. The murder of Kylie Breeden went unsolved for eight years, despite investigations by six Kentucky State Police detectives. In 2006 it was turned over to Sgt. Todd Harwood.

It took Sgt. Harwood 21 days to decide Susan King was guilty. He obtained the search warrant for her house that six other investigators failed to get and found the evidence that resulted in her trip to prison. This included testimony that Breeden was killed in Ms. King’s kitchen and two bullets found in her floor were the ones that killed Breeden. Sgt. Harwood claimed Ms. King then put Breeden’s body in the trunk of a car, drove 40 miles, and dumped the body in a river, where it was found. In 2009, Sgt. Harwood received a Commissioner’s Commendation for his “outstanding achievement in solving Breeden’s murder”.

Thanks to the Innocence Project, an honest detective who was transferred to the graveyard shift for blowing the whistle in this case, and Ms. King’s determination to clear her name, the truth started coming out in 2012 when a serial murderer named Richard Jarrell confessed to committing the murder to the detective.

Testimony that allowed Ms. King’s lawsuit to go forward included the determination that Sgt. Harwood obtained the search warrant by omitting key facts in the application, including that Ms. King did not own a car to put the body in, she weighed only 108 pounds, and had one leg and no prosthetic, which means she could not have dragged to body to her nonexistent car, nor throw it off a bridge.

 In testimony, Sgt. Harwood neglected to admit that he knew the bullets that killed Breeden never exited his body and that a forensics expert determined the bullets found in Ms. King’s kitchen floor did not match the ones removed from Breeden’s body.

In 2015, Ms. King filed a civil suit against Harwood, who was promoted to lieutenant after “solving” Breeden’s murder. It was dismissed by the U.S. District Court, which said there was sufficient probable cause for Ms. King’s arrest and that she filed the suit too late. The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal, allowing the case to go forward against Lt. Harwood, who retired from the Kentucky State Police in 2017.

With the facts that are now known, prosecutors have dropped the charges against Ms. King, who will now have her civil suit against Lt. Harwood heard by a jury.

This is a case that highlights how easy it is for an innocent person to go to prison when the system protects the bad cops.

W. Scott Cole

Posted on April 16, 2020 13:19

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