1999 murder case won’t settle

Floyd Bledsoe has been convicted, released, and ordered back to prison

Twice in 10 years Floyd Bledsoe has received a phone call that would lead him to prison.

Bledsoe received the first of those calls on Nov. 5, 1999, while working late at the Zule dairy farm near Oskaloosa. The caller alerted Bledsoe that his sister-in-law, 14-year-old Zetta “Camille” Arfmann, had gone missing after a bus dropped her off from school.

After a three-day search, Camille’s body, shot three times in the chest and once in the back of the head, was located in a field on Bledsoe’s parents’ property.

Bledsoe was found guilty of the murder in a Jefferson County court in 2000 and sentenced to life in prison.

The other call came on June 26, 2009, while Bledsoe was again working on a dairy farm, but this time in Hutchinson. The caller alerted Bledsoe that the court decision freeing him nine months earlier had been reversed.

Hours later, Bledsoe was in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service and on his way back to prison to continue his life sentence.

In the debate about Bledsoe’s innocence or guilt, he is either one of two very different things.

For the lawyers and advocates who believe in Bledsoe’s innocence, he represents a grave injustice of a wrongly convicted man who may spend the rest of his life in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.

For the Kansas Attorney General’s Office and the Jefferson County court that convicted him, Bledsoe is a cold-blooded murderer.

Legal battles

Bledsoe’s attorneys from the Paul E. Wilson Defender Project at the Kansas University School of Law say the evidence against Bledsoe should not have been enough to convict him. And after studying his case for years, they’re convinced Bledsoe is innocent.

The Defender Project became involved with Bledsoe’s case two years ago after Bledsoe exhausted his state appeals when the Kansas Supreme Court affirmed his conviction in 2002.

Alice White, an attorney from the Defender Project, said the case against Bledsoe was based on the statements made by Bledsoe’s brother, Thomas Bledsoe.

White said that is concerning because Thomas initially confessed to the murder, led investigators to the body, and only recanted his confession after being charged in the murder.

“Other than Tom’s statements, there’s no evidence that Floyd participated in this crime,” said White. “It was the credibility of Tom versus the credibility of Floyd.”

But the evidence against Floyd was enough for the Kansas Attorney General’s Office, which appealed the release of Bledsoe to the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver.

The appeal was successful, as the court on June 26 reversed the lower court’s decision freeing Floyd.

In an e-mail statement about the court’s decision, the Attorney General’s office wrote, “We are pleased that the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the jury’s guilty verdict.”

Jefferson County Sheriff Jeff Herrig, who was the county undersheriff during the murder investigation, said that despite Floyd’s claims of innocence, he’s also pleased that he’s back in prison.

“I think it’s wonderful. … It’s a good deal all around for Jefferson County,” said Herrig, who was concerned that the county might have had to retry Bledsoe if his release was upheld.

But Herrig also acknowledges the competing theories about the crime.

“We knew that he (Floyd) was involved one way or another,” said Herrig. “There could’ve been someone else involved (in the murder).”

The Journal-World attempted to contact Floyd Bledsoe, but a spokesman from the Kansas Department of Corrections said that the department does not grant phone or face-to-face interview requests with inmates.

Life in between

Some who have gotten to know Floyd Bledsoe since his conviction have trouble believing he’s a murderer.

While at the Hutchinson Correctional Facility, Floyd took an eight-week life-skills class with the prison ministry organization Freedom Challenge. Don Starnes, executive director of the Wichita-based organization, said Floyd was a model student who continued to volunteer with the class after graduating.

Floyd’s work at the prison and his connections with the volunteers led to multiple job offers when he was released last September, Starnes said. Floyd chose to return to what he was doing 10 years ago, before his conviction — working on a dairy farm.

Orville Miller, who owns the Miller Farm where Floyd was working during his release, said the court’s reversal has devastated the workers at the farm and those involved in the prison ministry.

“It was a pretty rough afternoon,” said Miller, who got to know Floyd through volunteering at the prison. Miller said that Floyd has become a close friend, and Miller believes he is innocent.

“He’s the kind of guy I want as a neighbor. He’s got a heart for people,” Miller said.

Floyd’s concern for others was evidenced by his continued work with other ex-inmates, Miller said. Floyd would take every Monday off from work so that he could drive to Wichita to work with ex-inmates, and he had worked at establishing a local halfway house for ex-inmates, Miller said.

‘I don’t know’

White said that at this point, Floyd’s legal options for release or a new trial are limited. She said her office will be requesting that the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals review the case, but if that’s unsuccessful, the other option would be an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Regardless of how the legal battles over Floyd Bledsoe’s guilt or innocence are resolved, there most likely won’t be a definitive resolution to the competing opinions and theories of who killed Camille Arfmann.

Those on both sides of the debate will surely continue to argue and fight for their version of the truth. But after nearly 10 years, some involved in the case are fighting to move on.

Thomas Bledsoe now lives in McLouth, and he declined a request to be interviewed by the Journal-World.

Floyd and Thomas’ parents, Catherine and Floyd L. Bledsoe, sold their home in 2005 along with the property where the body was found. The site where Camille’s body was buried under debris has been cleared out by the new owner.

Jim Bolinger, a lay minister at the church Thomas attended, knew the Bledsoe brothers as well as Camille, and said that who committed the murder might never be resolved in his mind.

“I don’t know. … It’s all passed,” said Bolinger. “I just kind of blacked it out of my mind.”