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.

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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.

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Another Column Urges Justice for Belynda

Mike Masterson continues to write to try to secure justice for Belynda. From a recent column:

The next development in her case will unfold at 2 p.m. Monday in the Carroll County Courthouse in Berryville. There, an Innocence Project attorney and another from an international law firm will question Gary Lester, the last officer to see and handle the potentially crucial DNA evidence that inexplicably went missing (along with paperwork) after the state Crime Laboratory turned it over to local police.

My point is to yet again ask the board and our governor to do the right thing by this mother and grandmother who has spent her time behind bars helping other female inmates in many ways. She has fought off understandable personal frustrations and periods of hopelessness as fellow inmates (recognizing her innocence and the glaring injustices in her case) have written letters of support for commuting her sentence of life without parole, as have jurors in her trial and the court bailiff.

TGIFF: Thank Goodness It’s Freedom Friday

Here is some innocence news from around the world:

Benjamin Radford writes about how New York fugitive sightings highlight problems with eyewitness errors. Eyewitness misidentification is the greatest contributing factor to wrongful convictions proven by DNA testing, playing a role in more than 70% of convictions overturned through DNA testing nationwide, according to the Innocence Project.

Jerry Mitchell reports that the expert whose bite-mark evidence led a jury to put Eddie Lee Howard Jr. on Mississippi’s death row now believes such evidence should be tossed. “I no longer believe in bite-mark analysis,” forensic odontologist Michael West of Hattiesburg testified in a 2012 deposition, Mitchell reports. “I don’t think it should be used in court. I think you should use DNA. Throw bite marks out.”

Kalief Browder, who committed suicide after being held at Rikers Island for three years for a crime he did not commit, wrote a paper on solitary confinement while attending college after his incarceration. Our thoughts are with Mr. Browder’s family.

Thank Goodness It’s Freedom Friday

Today we are introducing a new feature to the site called TGIFF (Thank Goodness It’s Freedom Friday.) This will be a time when we highlight news from the week as it relates to Belynda’s case and innocence work from around the world. If you’ve seen a story that you think we should mention, please email us at freebelynda@gmail.com.

Debra Milke, who spent more than 20 years on death row, had her murder charges dismissed. Milke was convicted of murdering her four-year-old son. “She was innocent. It was all based upon a police officer that just totally lied,” her attorney said outside court. “To see her free today and totally free and exonerated, it’s an unbelievable feeling — just unbelievable.”

Karen Daniel of the Center on Wrongful Conviction’s Women’s Project, which works on cases of wrongly convicted women, wrote about the problems with Pixar’s new film, Inside Out in a piece called, Pixar Movie teaches future jurors wrong lesson on memory.

There are 1600 exonerations on the National Registry of Exonerations! We can’t wait until Belynda joins the list!

We have added new documents to the website! You can read letters from Belynda’s children, jurors from her trial, and Judge Finch, who ruled she should be given a new trial.

Jurors: Goff’s freedom should be restored, she should be allowed to return to her family

Four jurors from Belynda’s trial, the bailiff from her re-sentencing, and Judge Finch, who ruled that she should receive a new trial but was overturned by another court, have submitted letters which were included in Belynda’s clemency application. We have posted their letters in our Documents section of the website:

Judge Finch: “I do believe you were poorly represented at trial and that the circumstances of your case are unlikely to ever occur again.”

Four jurors: “I was a juror in State vs. Belynda Goff… After careful consideration, I am asking that you grant clemency to Ms. Goff. I feel her freedom should be restored and she should be allowed to return to her family.”

Bailiff from her re-sentencing: “I met Mrs. Goff while acting as bailiff at her re-sentencing, during which time I came to believe she had been wrongly convicted. I began to correspond with her in prison, and in all this time my belief in her innocence has only grown.”

Please add your voice to help bring Belynda home. Write to Governor Hutchinson and ask your friends and family to do the same.

Changes to the website and our twitter account

Hi everyone,

If you’re looking to learn more about Belynda’s case please start looking at the Documents section of our website. We have posted Judge Finch’s opinion in which he ordered Belynda a new trial. Unfortunately, his decision was overruled by another appellate court. Judge Finch lays out the overwhelming evidence of Belynda’s innocence and the evidence the jury never heard.

Also, we are using our Twitter account to tell people about Belynda’s case but also to share news about wrongful convictions and exonerations from across the country. Follow us @freebelynda.

Thanks for your support!

Your friends at Free Belynda Goff

Arkansas Columnist Asks Gov. to Grant Belynda Clemency

Mike Masterson has published another column in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette urging Governor Hutchinson to grant Belynda clemency and he’s asking readers to write to the governor in support of her petition. Thank you, Mike, for helping the truth come to light!

Still hope for Goff

I’m concerned my column last week about the Arkansas Board of Parole recommendation to deny Belynda Goff her third request for clemency in 20 years might have left the mistaken impression that all hope for compassion and reason in her appalling conviction for a 1994 murder also was lost for the next six years.

The board gives its recommendation on executive commutations and clemency cases to the governor, who then can choose to either ignore or accept that suggestion.

In this instance, the mother from Green Forest whose case and conviction has been riddled with questions, contradictions, omissions and even crucial missing evidence from the beginning, still can hope Gov. Asa Hutchinson now will choose to do his own inquiry and actually examine her 233-page request carefully, then grant her petition after the 20 years she’s already spent behind bars.

Goff has vigorously insisted on her innocence in the bludgeoning death of her late husband, Stephen, from the time she was arrested. Her trial produced no direct evidence connecting her to the crime that occurred at their front door after her husband had become involved with an arson-for-hire gang that threatened to kill him only days before he was murdered.

Only five of the seven members of the parole board cast votes to deny Goff’s latest request. I can’t help but believe most of those commissioners didn’t invest the adequate time or energy required to actually analyze her request for a hearing and commutation to time served. Reporter Cheree Franco, who wrote about that, has done an admirable job of following Goff’s case.

Those who know me also will realize that I’d certainly not be harping on this matter if I didn’t see her request as not only reasonable but Goff as more than deserving of the governor’s empathy and assistance. Otherwise, this woman who has helped so many down-and-out female inmates during her two decades in prison must wait another six years before even being able to ask the board for its support again.

You also know I’m not alone here when the vaunted Innocence Project in New York now represents Goff, and when four members of her jury and even the bailiff at her sentencing hearing sent letters supporting this mother’s more-than-justifiable request for commutation. I’d encourage all Arkansans to let the governor know your feelings on this sad case. You can learn a lot more details by Googling Belynda Goff.

If you haven’t written the governor, it’s not too late! He can be contacted online here. And make sure to thank Mike for his great coverage on Belynda’s case.

Belynda’s Pastor Speaks Out

Belynda’s pastor, Reverend Mark W. Lenneville, has written a letter to Governor Hutchinson on Belynda’s behalf. He has been by Belynda’s side since this tragedy began, two decades ago.

Dear Governor Hutchinson:

I am writing this letter in support of Belynda Goff’s request for release from prison and grant of clemency.

I have known Belynda Goff for nearly 20 years. During this time I served as her and her family’s pastor and counselor. I was with her at the time of her husband’s murder, through the tragic arson to her house, at the death of her sister, at the senseless killing of her pets by “unknown persons,” at her arrest, investigation, indictment, incarceration, pre-trial activities, trial, sentencing, post-trial events and confinement. I have been there when she, her family and friends received the news about her trial sentence, the appeal for a retrial that was granted and subsequently overturned, and through the process of appeal to the Federal Courts. I have struggled with her dealing with incompetent representation (according to the Circuit Court Judge) and a tainted and eventually censored judge, according to the Arkansas Judicial Disciplinary Board. I witnessed, with her, inadequate police investigation and reporting prior to the trial and at the trial. I was even privy to a likely scenario of events that never fell on the jury’s ears because of her attorney’s “trial strategy.” It has been a long and hard journey for Belynda and all of those concerned about Belynda, her ailing mother and children.

When she joined the First Presbyterian Church in Berryville, her passion and commitment to doing God’s work became apparent quickly. Belynda demonstrated a faith-filled spirit, trust in God and commitment to the belief that God would make all things right and good. She bolstered those who lacked the depth of faith and commitment to Christ. She demonstrated the attributes of a loving and caring parent as she helped her three children deal with the events surrounding the death of their father/stepfather and her subsequent incarceration. She shared her journey and insights with those who were close and far, touching lives through her demonstration of the Love of God that she owned and experienced. She lived a pure and righteous life in obedience to God’s Word and her faith, prior to the events of her husband’s murder, throughout those stress-filled and dark days that followed, and while incarcerated.

Belynda is a caring and nurturing person. She has been a witness to and a source for hope for those behind bars and those who walk in freedom. She is intelligent, having earned a Bachelor and Master degree in religious studies while incarcerated. She is articulate and personable, despite the prison culture. She is tenacious, working hard at everything that she does and performing her tasks well. She has been given additional duties and privileges in prison because of her diplomacy, skill and veracity. She is honest. She is a dedicated and responsible person. Despite the distances between her home in Green Forest and the various prisons that she has been in, she guided her mother’s rearing of the children. Her daughter is a college graduate and is married with a child. Her one son was in the Marine Corps and her other son lives with his sister. She is wise beyond her years, drawing on what she knows as Truth and what she intuitively grasps. When all around her are loosing their heads, Belynda is a calming and hope-filled presence.

I am certain that Belynda would be able to find a job, once released. She is industrious. She is also an accomplished writer and I am sure that she has a “book in her” regarding the past twenty years of her life. Belynda is a hard worker and does not shirk responsibility. Even during the stress of the investigation and trial she was never late for work and would always follow through with her commitments. What employer would not be pleased with a bright, caring, personable, committed, insightful, and articulate independent thinker? Her previous employers felt that she was worthy of employment and I am certain that future employers would feel that same way.

My prayer is that you will find it within your heart to return Belynda to her family, society and freedom. If nothing else, I feel that she is worthy of your serious prayers on her behalf and wisdom discerning her ability to, once again, be returned to society and productivity. May God bless you as you ponder this important decision regarding this person who has served her time and is now ready to be released from prison.

In Christ,

The Reverend Mark W. Lenneville, MBA, MTS, MDiv., LTC (Ret)
Honorably Retired Minister at Large- Presbytery of Arkansas
Managing Partner, Uniformed Services Health Professional Placement (USHPP)

Belynda: Being forced to wear a prison uniform does not make me a criminal

This is the time of year when many of us see our loved ones graduate from high school or college – a time when years of hard work can be celebrated with loved ones. Like far too many precious moments, Belynda was robbed of the chance to see her three children graduate from high school, her daughter graduate college, and her son graduate Marine boot camp.

Recently, Belynda was asked what she would want to say to those who are graduating who plan to pursue a career in criminal justice. Here are her words:

Being forced to wear a prison uniform does not make me a criminal. Nor does wearing a badge, suits and ties, or the robes of the court make anyone above reproach. It is the character within. You can make all the difference in someone’s life and you will one way or another. Simply put, please make sure that you can look yourself in the eye and know in your heart of hearts that your actions and motivations are upright, honorable, pure, and that you gave all that you had to give. One person can change the world. The mantle is heavy but if you wear it with truth, integrity, and honor then justice will be served.

Gov. Hutchinson: “You can help put an end to this injustice by granting her petition”

We are happy to share with you this powerful letter to Gov. Hutchinson sent from an Arkansas resident. Thank you Karin McClelland!

Dear Gov. Hutchinson,

I am writing to ask you to grant Belynda Goff’s clemency petition. Belynda has served more than 20 years for a murder she did not commit. You can help put an end to this injustice by granting her petition.

Belynda was offered a 10 year plea deal but turned it down, refusing to admit to a crime she did not commit. Many people have supported her petition, including jurors from her trial.

I respectfully ask you to grant her petition, correct this injustice and bring her home to her children and grandchildren.

Belynda is being represented by the Innocence Project and as you well know, they don’t take on cases without sufficient evidence that there has been an injustice served.

To read more: http://belyndagoff.pbworks.com/w/page/50473724/FrontPage

Sincerely,

Your Proud Supporter

Karin McClelland