The shameful case of Belynda Goff, the Green Forest mother who many, including me, believe was wrongfully convicted of murdering her husband Stephen in their home 23 years ago, finally is drawing the national attention it richly deserves.
Writing for the liberal Huffington Post website, contributor Hannah Riley, director of communications for the New England Innocence Project, published her latest compelling overview of the Goff travesty. Riley laid out some of many oversights, deceptions, misassumptions and missing evidence that have plagued this sad case since Stephen Goff was murdered on June 11, 1994.
Since her conviction and life sentence without parole, Goff has maintained her innocence, just as she did at trial when she refused a plea bargain because she would not plead guilty to a crime she didn’t commit.
After 46 years in this business and in the process investigating three different Arkansas men convicted of heinous crimes in separate cases being freed when fresh facts were later revealed, I can say to readers without equivocation that I believe Ms. Goff, a prisoner in the McPherson Women’s Unit at Newport, did not murder her husband.
At 54, she’s now spent more than 20 years behind bars, and many feel largely it’s because those in the criminal justice system in Carroll County all those years ago wouldn’t want to admit they were wrong. That sort of thing could be downright humiliating. But then, the truth matters greatly, and as the poet William Cullen Bryant once reminded: “Truth, crushed to earth, shall rise again.”
And now Riley has brushed a bit more earth off the truths of this case with her story headlined “Arkansas has gotten it wrong for years.”
“For years, Ms. Goff has fought the many injustices heaped on her, both alone and with her family,” Riley quoted Goff’s attorney, Karen Thompson of the Innocence Project, saying.
Riley’s article then reviewed basic facts, many previously reported since 2014 in this column: On June 11, 1994, at 9 p.m. Belynda and Stephen were spending Saturday evening at home in Green Forest.
Stephen received a phone call. After a brief conversation, he said he was heading to a convenience store for cigarettes. Belynda eventually nodded off in front of the television. She roused herself around 10:30 and went to bed alone.
Belynda awoke about seven hours later. Entering the living room, she initially could see Stephen’s feet “barely visible from behind a low wall. As she moved closer, she saw blood splatter on the wall and door-frame behind his body. She shook his foot in an attempt to rouse him, and then began to scream.”
Riley wrote that EMTs and Green Forest police arrived not long after she called, and police drew up a knee-jerk hypothesis: Belynda had killed Stephen.
Such a rushed theory, Riley continued, triggered tunnel vision, “a very human (and very dangerous) condition, one that ensnared the entirety of the case, and, ultimately, the next 22 years of the Goff family’s life.”
Tunnel vision, Riley wrote, caused authorities to ask Belynda where she “hid the gun” and what prompted them to test her hands for gun residue even though Stephen had been bludgeoned, not shot. It also caused them not to dust for fingerprints on either side of the doorknob. Riley reported that one detective at trial said, “I did not try to find prints at any particular point in the apartment … I had already made up my mind that it was not necessary.”
There also was an abundance of relevant evidence the jury never heard, Riley wrote. For instance, Stephen Goff had become involved in an arson scheme in Flint, Mich. Belynda’s brother Chris Lindley wasn’t called to testify at her first trial, but testified at her appeal that Stephen had repeatedly tried to solicit his involvement.
“Chris initially agreed to participate in the arson,” Riley wrote, “but changed his mind and backed out soon after. Stephen was terrified when Chris relayed his change of heart, telling Chris that he had already spent the money and would surely be killed if they didn’t both go through with the crime.”
A few days later, Stephen was found dead. Two days after that, Chris received a phone call threatening his life. In a panic, Chris moved his family. About a year after Stephen’s murder, the Goff family home was burned in a still-unsolved arson, Riley wrote.
“On June 11th, before Stephen’s death, a neighbor of the Goffs called the police to report two suspicious men skulking around the apartment complex, often returning to their car, which had two baseball bats visible in the backseat. She initially reported the men out of fear for her children’s safety, but called police again to reiterate what she had seen after hearing the news of Stephen’s death. Other neighbors corroborated seeing the strange men,” Riley reported.
Another man came forward, telling police “that in the early hours of the 12th, he and a friend heard a group of men discussing a ‘blood bath’ in Green Forest, saying that someone had been badly beaten with a baseball bat. One of the men, they reported, had been carrying a baseball bat.”
There’s so much more to this shameful case. Read Riley’s complete story at tinyurl.com/huff-goff.
Mike Masterson’s column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at email@example.com.
Editorial on 05/13/2017