MIKE MASTERSON: After 22 years
by Mike Masterson | January 29, 2019 at 4:30 a.m.
Following my latest column about the plight of prison inmate Belynda Goff of Green Forest imprisoned for 22 years, I received reactions from readers, including one on the newspaper’s website from Mr. or Ms. “Identification.” Sounds to me like a pseudonym for someone who in 1994 was perhaps involved in the rush to convict the mother (now grandmother) of first-degree murder.
I figure thinking adults who take a few minutes to read about the long-incarcerated woman, and model prisoner, are able to see how badly this case was mishandled from the earliest moments after she called the operator when she wakened predawn to discover her fatally bludgeoned husband, Stephen, lying bloodied and dead just inside their front door.
Here’s what “Identification” wrote: “Stephen Goff died inside the door of he and his wife’s apartment, from brutal head injury–with blood, and blood splatter on these inside walls–and inside the bathtub drain. The time of his death corresponds to the time of a disturbance by an upstairs neighbor, where a locked-out Mr. Goff is hammered to death upon entry. His dead body blocked the door, falling against the inside door hinges. All the facts, combined with a motive of an irritated wife of a philandering spouse, led to the speedy jury conviction.
“Tell the reader the facts of this case, Masterson–and then explain to us how Belynda Goff’s DNA could anyway be exculpatory for her defense. She was proven guilty, by a pile of evidence, and reasonable motive–not a weak case.”
Since “Identification” insisted on facts, I asked Karen Thompson, senior staff attorney with the Innocence Project in New York, which has taken Goff as a pro bono client, for her reaction to these comments.
No one knows facts of this case better. Thompson had filed a lengthy motion for Goff’s resentencing with the Carroll County Circuit Court on Dec. 28. That action argued Goff was denied her due process when crucial DNA evidence that might have helped prove her innocence became inexplicably and inexcusably “lost” by the sheriff’s office, along with recorded interviews.
How oddly convenient for those who immediately jumped to conclusions in this miscarriage.
Thompson is asking the court and Carroll County Prosecutor Tony Rogers out of simple fairness (and doing the right thing) to free Goff for the 22 years she already has served, or order a new trial. Thompson also suspects “Identification” is likely someone directly involved in Goff’s case with an oddly exaggerated personal ax to grind 22 years later. Who else would care enough to continue a crusade of this nature?
The attorney said her brief answered facts were supported by extensive exhibits, including “Identification’s” point about blood evidence and references to a hammer as the purported murder weapon. Thompson told me she’d ask the writer four fact-related questions: “If no one could get in and out of the Goffs’ apartment, why couldn’t police find a murder weapon? “If no one could get in and out of the apartment, how did the EMT get in? “Why does this person think DNA from the drain where Stephen showered every day was probative? Why did he say the blood was running down Mr. Bill Gage’s hand when the lab analyst said she barely had enough to sample and she couldn’t even test the swab to determine if it even was blood because there was so little material?
“Why did police not conduct further investigation into the men with bats that two neighbors saw near the house on the day of his murder?”
To Thompson’s questions, I’d also ask where was even one photo of all this supposed blood other than Stephen Goff’s? No fingerprints taken at the murder scene? Really?
Then I asked Goff’s grown daughter, Bridgette Jones, her thoughts on “Identification’s” comments.
“I keep re-reading this,” she said, expressing confidence she was certain who’d written them. “Paramedics and police entered and exited the home numerous times before our father’s body was ever moved. Not only that, lead investigating officer Archie Rousey testified he did not dust for fingerprints because by the time he got there so many people had come in and out the door.
“As to the ‘pile of evidence’ mentioned, like the hammers Officer Rousey testified to being murder weapons, the Crime Laboratory said they found no DNA (after two tests!) and that they couldn’t re-create the crime scene with the hammers submitted.
“They also said the hammers didn’t match the Sheetrock scrapes behind Stephen Goff. There are those who will stop at nothing in our mother’s case. Don’t even get me started on the drain malarkey. Karen Thompson can literally break down the drain into physical science and tell you just how irrelevant it is.
“One more thing,” Jones continued. “About that speedy jury conviction comment. Numerous times from the get-go the trial judge insisted to the jury that they be speedy and that he wanted this over with ASAP so he could spend time with his grandkids. This is literally recorded in documentation. And let’s not forget that same judge actually entered the jury deliberation room!”
Care about justice, valued readers? Got 10 minutes? Please Google this case and read about it. More to come.
Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editorial on 01/29/2019