By Mike Masterson with the Arkansas Democrat Gazette: In Goff Case

The parade of unheard witnesses whose testimony could have shed relevant light on Belynda’s Goff’s conviction in the murder of her husband continues to swell, including one who would have told about threats in a dangerous arson scheme that may have led to Stephen Goff’s June 1994 death.
In 2001, Belynda’s brother, Chris Lindley, then a 38-year-old former U.S. Marine, testified at her appeal hearing that, about a year prior to his murder, Stephen repeatedly had asked him to participate in an arson scheme, which involved being paid $10,000 ($5,000 each) by criminals Stephen knew, to burn a warehouse near Flint, Mich.

Initially, Lindley reluctantly told Stephen he would participate, but then changed his mind. That’s when Stephen grew angry, panicked and even wept while continuing to try to persuade his brother-in-law. According to Lindley’s unheard testimony, Stephen said he’d already spent the money and faced being killed if Lindley backed out.
Lindley remained firm in his decision and several days later, Stephen indeed was murdered.

The appeals court ruled Belynda’s trial counsel, Charles Davis, had been ineffective, in part for not calling Lindley to testify at her trial. Belynda’s hopes soared when she was granted a new trial in that Rule 37 appeal. But our Supreme Court overturned the decision, saying failure to call Lindley was part of Davis’ trial strategy. Certainly not a strategy I’d have chosen. Lindley also testified that within days of Stephen’s death, an unknown caller threatened him, saying if he talked about the arson plan, he’d find himself beside Steve: “You will be dead; your family will be dead.” He said he immediately changed his phone number, sold his home, and moved. He said he also sent a letter explaining these details to then-Gov. Mike Huckabee.

In the year following Stephen’s death, Belynda had moved with her children to a rental home authorities said was intentionally burned using some form of accelerant in the carport. It remains an unsolved arson.  Other potential defense witnesses (joining Lindley and three others cited in Saturday’s online-only column) prevented from testifying by motions argued successfully before then-Carroll County Circuit Judge Tom Keith were Gayle and Shannon Howard.  The Howards would have testified that they’d been waiting to make a phone call in Green Forest on June 12, 1994 (the day of Stephen’s murder). While there they overheard a young person talking on the telephone, saying words to the effect of, “we did not mean to kill him … we only meant to hurt him,” the trial record shows.  Had the Howards been allowed to testify they would have further sworn they relayed the one-sided conversation to the Green Forest Police Department after they arrived home where a family member insisted they contact police.
Say, I wonder if records from that phone were ever acquired to see just who that caller reached? Just a thought.

Meanwhile, a second juror in the Goff case sent an email message last week to say she believes Goff did not murder her husband. She told me: “My name is Brandy and I sat on the re-sentencing part of Belynda’s trial. The only reason I was able to allow that sentence to go through was because when I walked in that room as a juror, Mrs. Goff had already been convicted of murder and I had zero say in that. “So, based on that conviction was where my sentencing came from. Now, we had to hear most of the evidence that was given in the original trial and my opinion has always been that she is very much an innocent woman. I don’t remember specifics of the case, but I do remember knowing the only reason I sentenced her to life in prison was because she had already been convicted. My opinion has always been she was wrongly convicted, but again that was not my trial. I don’t know if my saying this means anything to you or not but I pray it gives you drive to continue to try … Thanks for listening.”

Seems to me this conviction likely still weighs heavy on the consciences of all the decent people involved in sending Belynda Goff away for life based on such an unbelievably flimsy and botched case.  Some of the other astonishing flaws included zero physical evidence, highly questionable testimony, DNA evidence inexcusably lost by the Carroll County sheriff’s office, no murder weapon found, an implausible scenario, a judge expressing desire on record to end her trial early so he might entertain visitors, an immediately trampled crime scene, and failing to follow up on witnesses to the two mid-20s men with baseball bats parked in front of the Goffs’ apartment just hours before Stephen was murdered with a blunt instrument inside his front door.

I continue to encourage every reader to examine the website freebelyndagoff.com and Google her name to get the fullest context of this astonishing story, which I can’t possibly provide in this space, although I’m trying my best.
I’ve certainly never seen a more deserving case for compassion and mercy in 48 years of practicing this craft in five states.

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ARSON

There is something that I need to address. In September of 1995 Belynda Goff’s house was set ablaze in the middle of the night while she and her children slept inside.

Now let’s fast forward to the last time Belynda Goff applied for clemency.

Now retired police officer, Archie Rousey, took it upon himself to address the Arkansas Post Prison Transfer Board. He even boasted about it in the local paper. Rousey says to the board determining her fate:

“A rented house that Belynda Goff and her children lived in, after the murder, somehow burned down. Belynda Goff, in her letter to this board, is trying to say that this was arson, and an attempt on her life and her children’s lives.

Big Question. If this is true, and Belynda Goff was so afraid, after the fire, then why, after received the life insurance money, did she buy a house in the same community? Why would she allow her children to attend the same school? Why didn’t she just move away? After all, with all that money she could have moved anywhere she wanted to. She wasn’t charged until several months later. She could have moved and taken herself and her children out of harms way. Was this an attempt on her life? No.”

 

arrest date1

 

Belynda Goff was arrested on May 3, 1995. The house that “some how” burned down was on September 5, 1995. Belynda Goff didn’t move away BECAUSE SHE COULDN’T. He knows this. Rousey KNOWINGLY LIED to state officials. But let’s give the benefit of the doubt… Let’s say it was just a date mix-up. But how would you explain the following?

 

Arson2

Arson3

This is an unsolved arson. State Police Investigator Robert Hicks’ report is seen above.

Rousey says to the Arkansas Post Prison Transfer Board “was this an attempt on her life?  No.”

Tell me reader, why would anyone set a house on fire in the middle of the night while a family slept inside?

Was this an attempt on her life? That answer is clearly YES. Not to mention her children’s and sister’s lives. Do you know this information never even made it into her original trial? It didn’t fit Carroll County’s theory. This crime was NEVER investigated further. The culprit remains free while lies like these told by supposed “officials” keep Belynda Goff in prison.

 

 

 

 

 

“Jurors, bailiff sought mercy” by Mike Masterson

MASTERSON ONLINE: Jurors, bailiff sought mercy
by Mike Masterson | Today at 4:30 a.m.

If you believe my concerns over the tragic 1996 conviction and imprisonment of Belynda Goff of Green Forest are just ol’ Mike off on a ranting crusade, you’d be mistaken.
More than a handful of people involved with this travesty—including four jurors, her former attorney and even the court bailiff in Goff’s first-degree murder conviction—have written state officials for a decade seeking her release, all to no avail.

Today, the 57-year-old mother and grandmother remains in the Department of Correction McPherson Women’s Unit at Newport, having served more than 22 years of a sentence that would have been 10 had she accepted a manslaughter plea agreement in 1996.
She refused the offer because she wouldn’t concede guilt to savagely bludgeoning her husband Stephen to death in 1994. Instead, Belynda put her hopes into the purported integrity and wisdom of the justice system.
Similar letters addressed both to the governor and members of our state’s Parole Board in 2008 from four jurors—Harvey Butler, Ronald Young, Clara Tittsworth and Janice Head—each sought clemency for Goff, who they even then believed was deserving.
Janice Precure, retired Division III circuit court bailiff in the 19th Judicial District West, told me she also sent the following letter to Governor Asa Hutchinson last week. It’s the second she’s written in a decade.
“I was the judge’s bailiff at the re-sentencing hearing for Belynda Goff, held in Carroll County. … Listening to the testimony at that hearing, I became seriously concerned that this woman was not guilty of the crime for which she had been previously convicted: concerned enough to read the entire transcript of the original trial, and was stunned at what I considered to be both the lack of incriminating evidence and testimony through which she had been found guilty.

“I subsequently began a correspondence with Ms. Goff in the Department of Corrections, and I can say that nothing in the intervening years has changed my mind about her innocence. I have helped her cause in whatever ways I could, including polling the original jury, three of whom admitted to having serious doubts about their guilty vote, including one who claims to have never recovered from the shame of having cast that vote.

“It is well-worth noting that the prestigious Innocence Project is now involved in the Goff case. I, too, think Belynda Goff is innocent: that she did not receive a fair trial according to the principles of our democracy, and that if released she will once again be a productive member of our society. It is my understanding that at least one of the judges in her case, in addition to one of the prosecutors, have agreed that Belynda Goff has certainly served a reasonable amount of time for the sentence of manslaughter, and approve of her release.”

Then there’s the letter from trial attorney Stevan E. Vowell of Fayetteville, who sent the following letter supporting clemency to the Pardon and Parole Board and Department of Community Correction in January 2009. “I was co-counsel with Mr. Charles E. Davis of Springdale … in Ms. Goff’s trial, appeal and re-sentencing proceedings. Therefore, I am knowledgeable concerning the facts of her case. I am not naïve enough to believe that all of my clients are innocent. To the contrary, I normally go into a case with a very skeptical view of my client’s protestations of innocence. “However, Ms. Goff’s case is entirely different. I have always believed, and still believe, that she is innocent. The state’s case against her was based entirely on circumstantial evidence, and I am still surprised that the jury found that evidence to be sufficient. “I believe Ms. Goff would be a very productive member of society and a very law abiding citizen if released. Of that I have absolutely no doubt. She has three children, two of whom have had to grow up without her, and I believe she deserves the opportunity to be a compete mother to them in the free world. … I strongly support her request for clemency.”

Goff’s children are now 40, 31 and 28. Meanwhile, I’m clarifying important points made by the anonymous commenter called “Identification” whose online comments were published in my Tuesday column. “Identification,” who retains a bizarre, 22-year interest in Goff’s conviction, wrote this about the night Stephen Goff was beaten to death just inside his doorway: “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.”

Well, not only was the murder weapon never found or identified (certainly not a hammer), but Karen Thompson, senior staff attorney with the Innocence Project representing Goff, says she was troubled by “Identification’s” erroneous statements of documented events that night. “‘Identification’ makes it sound as though there was a disturbance ‘by the neighbors.’ In fact, it was the neighbors who heard knocking on the Goffs’ door at 2 a.m., followed by the door opening, then approximately five bangs that sounded like a broomstick hitting the ceiling,” Thompson told me. “That disturbance was likely caused by the true perpetrator of this crime.”

“In addition, Mr. Goff’s house keys were laying beside his body, by the door, as noted in the police report. Mr. Goff wasn’t ‘locked out.’ Additionally, two other neighbors told police about men lurking around the neighborhood with baseball bats around the time of the murder. These neighbors were never called to testify. This is a classic instance of what is known as confirmation bias, and ‘Identification’ misrepresents the record.”
I continue to hope readers will familiarize themselves with the details by reading through the website FreeBelyndaGoff.com. I’m also hopeful Carroll County Prosecutor Tony Rogers and/or our governor will ignore politics, see the truths about this case and mercifully free Ms. Goff either through clemency or time served.
Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com

From the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette