“Who Knocked?” by Mike Masterson with the Arkansas Democrat Gazette

In its 1996 case against Belynda Goff of Green Forest, the state argued she murdered her husband Stephen out of alleged jealousy as he entered their Forest Court Apartments home in the predawn of June 12, 1994. There, immediately inside their front door, she supposedly bludgeoned his head with a weapon that never was found or identified.

House and car keys lay beside Stephen’s body, indicating he’d not been locked out, as the state claimed. After the attack, the state said, Belynda called the operator for medical assistance about 4:30 a.m. Obviously, the jury somehow agreed with this unproven scenario, since its members convicted and sentenced Goff to life (please visit freebelyndagoff.com). Belynda’s version was that Stephen received a call about 9 p.m. and announced he was going out for cigarettes, although stores had closed. The mother of three went to bed about 10, having taken sleeping pills prescribed after a recent hysterectomy. The youngest child, 3, crawled in bed with her. The other kids were spending the night with friends.

Awakening to an alarm about 4:30, she went to the living room and discovered Stephen’s body. She said she immediately called the operator for help. EMTs and police soon arrived, shoving their way through the front door partially blocked by his upper body in the corner. These conflicting versions appeared to either discount (or ignore) crucial trial testimony by Sherri Terrill, whose family lived immediately above the Goffs. Here’s part of the testimony as then-prosecutor Kenny Elser questioned Terrill:

Elser: “… In the morning of June 12th the police officers came knocking on your door and woke you up; is that correct?” Terrill: “Yes.” E: “And they talked with you about … anything you had heard … or seen the previous night; is that correct?” T: “Yes.”
E. “Now, can you tell the jury what it is you had heard that night?” T: “It was about 2 o’clock in the morning and my husband and I were watching a movie in the living room and my little girl was asleep in the bedroom, and I heard three knocks [demonstrates for jury] like that on the Goffs’ door and then the door was opened, and just maybe a couple of minutes after that I heard some banging. “It sounded to me like a broomstick on the ceiling, or something, like they was trying to get our attention, and there was probably maybe like five bangs then, and then right after that I went to bed. And about 4 or 4:30 in the morning my husband woke me up to ask me what this noise was and it sounded like Belynda yelling downstairs, and then a couple of minutes after that it sounded like a man’s voice outside, and then I went back to bed and then about 5 or 5:30 the police came.” E: OK, Now when you say it was … 2 a.m., how do you remember that? How did you remember that time as being the time … somebody was knocking at their door?” T: “I thought it was kind of late for someone to be having visitors, so I happened to look at the clock to see what time it was. … I think it was 1:57.”

Terrill told Elser her living room was right above the Goffs’ front door.
In cross-examination by defense attorney Stevan E. Vowell, Terrill was asked if the first thing she heard was knocks at 1:57; she answered “yes,” and said she and her husband discussed it, and both were wide awake and heard it, telling Vowell she heard knocks three times. She testified she heard the door open, but didn’t hear conversation, but did hear banging. Vowell asked if it could have been something banging against the wall downstairs, and Terrill agreed. She said it was about one or two minutes from the time of the knocks to hearing the bangs.

Terrill also testified she didn’t recall hearing water running downstairs (as she usually would have been able to) after the banging. Had I been a juror in 1994, the glaring question resulting from Sherrill’s testimony was obvious. If a supposedly enraged Belynda had been waiting to beat Stephen to death without speaking and using some unknown and never-discovered blunt-force weapon with her child in the next room, who was heard rapping on the door at 1:57 a.m.? When answered, any subsequent noises were those hard, thumping sounds. And wouldn’t Stephen have needed and used the keys found lying beside him to operate his car before gaining entry?

This related message arrived from Susanne Thurman the other day:
“I’ve followed your writings on Belynda Goff with interest, as I was the 13th juror at the trial in the summer of 1996. An alternate is dismissed as the trial ends and jurors begin deliberations. Therefore I was not privy to anyone else’s opinion. “But I can tell you this based on the evidence I listened to and took careful notes of, and carefully listened to Ms. Goff’s testimony I would not–repeat not–have voted to convict her. I would have been the holdout if necessary. I certainly hope there will be justice for this lady. Thank you for taking the time to cover this … not only recently but also a couple of years ago.”
————v————
Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.
Editorial on 02/24/2019
Print Headline: Who knocked?

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How Odd…

I am going to share an article that came out today by Mike Masterson with the Arkansas Democrat Gazette titled “Irrelevant Me”. Before I do I feel the need to share my thoughts. We have no doubt who “Identification” is. He doesn’t have the courage to use his name but we know. You see his favorite words are “consistent with”. These are the same words found in his police reports.

Because Mr. Masterson is clearly striking a nerve by telling the actual real facts of this case “Identification” is now verbally attacking the journalist. Seems like someone doesn’t want the truth to be told. Hmmm…. I wonder why.

Mike Masterson Photo

MASTERSON ONLINE: ‘Irrelevant’ me

I’ve previously written about the reader calling himself “Identification” who clearly harbors an odd 22-year beef against Belynda Goff of Green Forest. Now 57, Goff was convicted in 1996 of brutally murdering her husband, Stephen, in their apartment two years earlier.  After exploring this legal travesty of a case, supported by unproven scenarios and zero physical evidence, my columns clearly have touched a nerve with this anonymous commenter who I suspect must have a bloodhound in this hunt.

Most recently, “Identification” attached the response below to a column citing witnesses who were never called in Goff’s defense: “This taken directly from the Arkansas Supreme Court’s decision of Stephanie Goff’s appeal: ‘Contrary to Ms. Goff’s version of occurring events, the evidence clearly indicates that her husband had been beaten to death while present in the couple’s apartment, and given the position of Mr. Goff’s body, the undisturbed blood stains on the inside doorknob, and the undisturbed windows, Mr. Goff’s attacker did not leave the apartment. Further, the hammers found in the kitchen are consistent with the type of weapon that would inflict the wounds that caused Mr. Goff’s death.

Mr. Goff’s blood was found on the bathtub drain, and a large pile of wet towels–one with blood on it–was found in the master bedroom. Such evidence indicates that someone in the apartment had attempted to “clean up” the crime scene. Masterson–I don’t need too many more reasons to disregard the NWADG opinion page, and this garbage far outweighs what good you might have done on the hog farm on a Buffalo River tributary. Give it up, or become irrelevant. I don’t care how many witnesses line-up, unless one of them claims to have helped Stephanie Goff murder her husband, it doesn’t add up to squat.”

By the way, Mr. “Identification,” the inmate’s name is still Belynda, not Stephanie Goff. But, hey, when have facts and truth ever mattered in this disgraceful case?
I asked Goff’s attorney, Karen Thompson of the Innocence Project, if she had a response to this phantom persecutor, since she’s well familiar with the documented “facts.”
As to “Identification’s” comments about the position of Stephen’s body blocking the killer’s escape through the door and bloodstains on the doorknob, Thompson responds that the statement is proven wrong by lead investigator Lt. Archie Rousey’s 1994 notes.
“Rousey writes how he ‘was just able to squeeze through with the door open approximately one foot.’ He also says that he is able to leave the apartment (wearing a white shirt) without getting any blood on him. No one doubts Stephen was killed in their apartment. The point is Belynda didn’t do it.

“Identification assumes whomever committed this crime was dripping with blood and, when they left, it would have been all over the door frame. There’s no reason to believe that to be true. Lt. Rousey states, undisturbed stains of blood were on the doorknob. This becomes his foundations for why Belynda must have done it. He thinks no one could have exited if there were small bloodstains on the knob that weren’t smeared. This requires huge levels of assumption. Why does he think the murderer didn’t wipe away other drops? Why does he think the perpetrator even closed the door during the quick attack? They wouldn’t have had to touch the doorknob to exit.

“Using ‘Identification’s’ logic, no one left the apartment after the murder, so why couldn’t police easily find a murder weapon in the apartment? Where are all the blood-soaked clothes?” Thompson went on, quoting “Identification’s” comment that two hammers found in the kitchen are consistent with the type of weapon that would have inflicted the fatal wounds.”This is disproved by the state’s own forensic examiner’s report. No one from the lab said [or testified] the hammers were consistent with Stephen’s wounds,” said Thompson.

To “Identification’s” remark that “blood” in the bathtub drain, and a large pile of wet towels–one with blood on it–is evidence someone in the apartment attempted to clean up the crime scene, Thompson said blood also was found on the bathtub rail and bathroom vanity mirror and determined to belong the Goffs’ child, Mark. “Finding blood in a bathroom is not particularly important unless you can show its probative value. There was such a tiny sample from the drain the state couldn’t even determine it was blood. Regardless, when Lt. Rousey took the drain sample, he used the same swab to take a sample from another officer’s hand. We also have no idea what that officer was touching before they swabbed his hand. Regardless, finding Stephen’s DNA in his own bathtub is not probative. If I swabbed your bathtub drain, I would find your DNA as well. I’d even find your blood if you’d shaved.”

The attorney also wondered what “Identification” meant by “attempted to clean up” the crime scene. “What evidence does [Identification] have of this, especially when blood from other family members was found in the bathroom? And remember, the upstairs neighbor who could hear when water was running in the Goff apartment testified she did not recall hearing any. The transcript of the police crime-scene video also has one officer clearly stating the towels weren’t even wet.”

Bottom line, Thompson tells me: “Not a single one of ‘Identification’s’ allegations comports with witness evidence; not one. It relies on his tunnel vision that shoehorns contradictory evidence into his ‘guilty’ theory.

“It’s also important to remember that in every one of the 360-plus DNA exonerations that have happened in the U.S., a person had been tried and convicted, often by a jury, and sometimes even sent to death row. At the time of their convictions, everyone thought they were 100 percent right. In all those cases, they were 100 percent wrong.”

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.
Web only on 02/23/2019
Print Headline: MASTERSON ONLINE: ‘Irrelevant’ me

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.

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