Belynda Goff has been incarcerated for more than twenty years for a murder she did not commit. Belynda is currently represented by the Innocence Project, an organization dedicated to using DNA testing to free wrongfully convicted people.
In 1997 Belynda was convicted of killing her husband and sentenced to life in prison. She had been offered a 10 year plea deal but turned it down, refusing to admit to a crime she did not commit. Three years earlier, in 1994, Belynda lived with her husband, Stephen Goff, their two young sons and her teenage daughter. She worked at the local Tyson plant but always tried to arrange her schedule so she would be home when her children arrived home from school. She never missed one of their Little League games or cheer leading events. On the night of June 11, her husband left their home around 9 p.m. He told Belynda he was going out for cigarettes. Belynda watched some TV, then went to bed around 10 or 10:30. Her husband still was not home.
During the night, her 3-year-old son crept into her bed and slept beside her. She woke up some time between 4 and 4:30 a.m. when the alarm went off. She went into the bathroom, then walked into the living room. She saw her husband laying by the front door and called his name. He did not respond. She went closer and saw his face was bloodied. Hysterical and screaming, Belynda called the operator and said her husband needed an ambulance. The police and paramedics arrived.As she sat outside just moments after finding her husband’s body, the police asked what she had done with the gun, and later that morning conducted a gunshot residue test on her hands. They mistakenly believed it was a shooting; in fact, her husband was bludgeoned to death.
The police immediately saw Belynda through a guilty lens. Rather than look for evidence to contradict their theory, they – and later the courts – would ignore the mounting evidence of her innocence – including the fact that her husband was allegedly involved in an arson scheme and had his life threatened shortly before the murder. While Belynda awaited trial, her home was burned down in a still-unsolved arson. The evening before Belynda found her husband’s body, a neighbor had seen men with baseball bats parked in front of Belynda’s apartment; the neighbor reported the sighting to the police that day and again after the murder.
In 2001, Belynda’s brother, Chris Lindley, testified at her appeal that over the course of about one year prior to the murder, Stephen repeatedly asked him to participate in the scheme, which reportedly involved getting paid $10,000 by two men to burn a building in Flint, Mich. At first, Chris said he would help but when he told Stephen he had changed his mind, Stephen became panicked. According to Chris, Stephen said he had already spent the money and would be killed if Chris backed out. A few days later, Stephen was found dead. The appeals court ruled that Belynda’s trial counsel was ineffective, in part, for not calling Chris to testify at her trial. Belynda was granted a new trial but another court overturned the decision.
Chris said he received a phone call from an unknown person threatening that “[i]f you open your mouth, you’ll find yourself laying right next to Steve. You will be dead; your family will be dead.” Chris immediately changed his phone number, sold his home, and moved. A little over a year after Stephen’s death, Belynda’s home was burned to the ground in a still unsolved arson.
Despite Belynda’s wrongful conviction, she has remained a loving and present mother to her three children – Bridgette, Stephen Lee, and Mark. While her young children lived with her mother during the early years of her incarceration, Belynda tried to call them every morning to wake them and make sure that they didn’t miss the bus. “A little piece of us wasn’t connected until that phone rang and we heard her voice,” Stephen Lee writes in a letter included in Belynda’s clemency petition. When Mark got married he held his wedding on her birthday and saved her a seat. When Bridgette became pregnant with her second child, she did not look at the ultrasound results because she wanted her mother to tell her the news. She sent them to Belynda, who responded by placing a pink ribbon in an envelope and sending it back to Bridgette. This daughter, born in June 2014, was named Liberty, for Belynda’s struggle to be free.
While imprisoned she has mentored other inmates, and joined the Paws in Prison program, training dogs for children with disabilities. Belynda is currently represented by the Innocence Project and they have filed a clemency petition on her behalf. Her application file included 44 letters supporting her request for clemency, including letters from her two children with Stephen Goff, from four trial jurors and from the bailiff on duty during the sentencing portion of Belynda’s trial.
Thank you for learning about her story.