Journalist Mike Masterson’s Take

MIKE MASTERSON: Justice impersonated

Goff denied

Posted: February 16, 2016 at 2:24 a.m.

Our state’s had plenty of cases impersonating as justice. There’s the Janie Ward disgrace where the teenage girl from Marshall died of a separated spinal column during a party; for more than 20 years her violent death has remained unresolved.

Lately, we’ve endured a different form of travesty caused by our state’s Department of Environmental Quality (cough) quickly, quietly and accommodatingly allowing a hog factory of some 6,500 swine to operate in the ecologically fragile watershed of our Buffalo National River, the country’s first so designated.

Now I see yet another. Karen Thompson, attorney for the Innocence Project in New York, says the petition for clemency submitted to Gov. Asa Hutchinson on behalf of inmate Belynda Goff of Green Forest has been denied.

Belynda has served 20 years of a life-without-parole sentence based on her 1996 conviction despite inexplicably missing DNA evidence, excluded records and witness testimony, as well as no hard evidence to justify her conviction, much less such an extreme sentence.

I say that because anyone with common sense, including lawyers and law professors who examine what happened to this mother following the beating death of her husband, can’t help but be startled by what they learn. Every Arkansan would benefit from visiting the family’s informative website, Free Belynda Goff. Draw your own conclusions.

Belynda remains imprisoned because she declined a plea bargain of 10 years in exchange for her guilty plea. She’s proclaimed innocence from the night of her husband Stephen’s 1994 murder, vowing she’d never plead guilty to a crime she didn’t commit. Would you?

In researching what I know of this deeply troubling case spearheaded at the time by Carroll County investigator Archie Rousey (now retired), it seems most likely that her husband was bludgeoned to death in the predawn just inside the Goffs’ front door, possibly because of Stephen Goff’s reported involvement with an arson ring.

Belynda’s trial has long struck me as anything but justice. Her daughter, Bridgette Jones, said the single drop of purported blood found in the Goffs’ bathroom turned out not to be blood, according to a state Crime Lab finding the family received that was revised from the finding presented to the jury. The jury also never heard from Jodi Morganson, who said men with bats reportedly were inquiring about the Goffs’ residence on the day of Stephen’s murder. The list of obvious flaws in Belynda’s case are too numerous to detail here.

Like many others I’m disillusioned with our state’s refusal to approve this mother’s justifiable plea for clemency.

Thompson of the Innocence Project said, “She’s given a life sentence by a jury that didn’t hear at trial any evidence supporting her innocence, and the original prosecutor offered her 10 years. She’s been in for nearly 20 and is being punished with life in prison simply for maintaining her innocence. They had no viable evidence to prove her guilt. None. Their theory of guilt was nonsensical.

“They [Carroll County Sheriff’s Department] ‘lost’ critical evidence–the most critical evidence–in this case, although they managed to keep every other single piece of evidence collected at the crime scene,” she continued. “I asked for a hearing to find out what happened to that evidence from the last officer who touched it. His response was insane. This is a travesty of justice.”

In November, Thompson questioned former Carroll County deputy Greg Lester under oath about his signature documenting that he’d indeed picked up potentially crucial DNA trace evidence from the state Crime Lab. That evidence vanished without explanation. With Rousey present in the courtroom during Thompson’s questioning, Lester testified that he didn’t recall anything about his trip to Little Rock for the evidence, or what became of it.

Shawna Day was released from the women’s prison in December and formed a prisoner advocacy group called Echoes. She knew Belynda well in prison, as do so many inmates Belynda helps without bitterness.

“Belynda was an inspiration while I was incarcerated,” said Day. “She challenged me to rise above my circumstances, as she does every day as an innocent woman locked away. She’s truly a woman out of place in that environment. Yet she uses her tragedy to help better those around her by being an example of class, dignity and clarity.

“As director of Echoes I cannot explain how disheartening this decision is,” Day continued. “If the governor’s office will not consider those who are innocent for clemency, how do the guilty who’ve reformed themselves inside have any hope?”


Mike Masterson’s column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at

Editorial on 02/16/2016


Let’s Play a Game…

Let’s play a game. It’s called you be the judge. I am going to post two pages from a trial transcript.  In a highlighted area you will see comments from Judge Tom Keith, Prosecutor Kenny Elser, and Officer Archy Rousey. Next I am going to show you the  actual crime lab report pertaining to the testimony given by Rousey.

You be the judge, tell me if you see anything wrong here.

541 rust 001

Homicide investigator, Archy Rousey, testifies that he took a photo of a blood spot on a bath rail. Think reader… If you’re in a court room and the pictures are facing a jury, why would the prosecutor ask that one “circle the area where the blood spot is in the photograph”? Surely he can see it. This is clearly for the dramatic play on the jury. He wants to ensure that they can see the damning evidence. Rust 2

The evidence is so damning that Judge Keith himself says the identified blood speaks for itself.

The only problem is that the judge, prosecuting attorney, and Rousey know that what is being circled in that photograph isn’t blood. However, it is red, it will make a mark on the jury, and they run with it. The issue is what the crime lab had to say.

Screenshot Lab Report 2

Due to a lack of DNA recovered from the bathtub rail no genetic comparisons could be conducted… Reader, you can get DNA reading from something as small as the head of a pin, even evidence that is more minute – microscopic. Why couldn’t they get a reading from something so large it could be photographed and testified to as being blood splatter?

Because it wasn’t blood. Perhaps it was rust?

Twenty years later Belynda Goff is behind bars today because of this testimony from Archy Rousey and the comments made by judge Tom Keith.

You be the judge. You have a voice? Use it.



Police Officer Has Sudden Bout of Amnesia on Stand

On November 9th of 2015 a hearing was held in the Circuit Court of Carroll County, Arkansas. This hearing was a deposition to question former police officer Greg Lester. Through research the Innocence Project of New York came across a document showing that Lester picked up integral DNA evidence from the state crime lab in Little Rock, Arkansas. He is the last person known to have the physical evidence.

It’s important to remember how this hearing even came about. The evidence that Lester had went MISSING. The Innocence Project was granted the right to test this evidence for DNA by a judge. When the attorney went to Carroll County to collect the evidence it was gone… Not just the DNA evidence but all of the paperwork pertaining to it. If this raises questions in your mind, please know we’re just scratching the surface here. This hearing was to ask Lester exactly what happened to the evidence but as the title of this post explains, instead of providing this information under oath, Lester seemed to have a sudden bout of amnesia and proclaimed himself unable to remember much of anything about his life during the time period in question.

During this recent hearing Lester was directly asked who his supervisor was during his employment at the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office. His exact answer was “I don’t recall”. The funny thing is that his former supervisor, Archy Rousey, was sitting in the front row, directly in front of him during this hearing. It is also worth noting that these two men maintained near-constant eye contact throughout the entire hearing.


Archy Rousey has long since been retired. This hearing was not announced in the papers or radio. What exactly is he doing here and as one legal professional said, “what is his perverse obsession with this case about”? Majority of his retirement speech in the local paper was about Belynda Goff. This is strange. It is his retirement and all he can think to talk about is a 20 year old crime? It’s especially strange that he would choose to talk about this one subject considering all of the experience he boasts about having. You can read the article here. What may be even more strange is the reaction of local prosecutor, Tony Rogers, when Rousey’s name was brought up during the hearing.

Per spectators, “Rogers became upset at the mention of Rousey’s name and started raising his voice.” Another says, “I’ve never seen anything like it, when they mentioned Archy Rousey he just lost it.” Many people stated that it was clear that Lester was coached on what to say and not say on the stand. He denied being at the crime scene and denied interviewing Goff that morning… That is until the attorney was able to show Lester the transcript of his interview he stated never happened.

The prosecutor was seen being “buddy buddy” with Rousey at the time of the hearing, performing questionable actions like escorting Rousey out and to the back the building, talking in hushed tones. And let’s not forget the witnesses who heard the prosecutor yelling outside the courthouse that he was “sick and tired of this case” (so professional, right?). Well quite a few of us are sick and tired of this case as well, Mr. Rogers. As more and more people learn of this injustice Belynda Goff’s supporters grow in numbers. You should know that this case is not going away and you should start preparing for much much more of it.