Steve Haddock visits the grave of his mother, Barbara, a few times a year at the St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery in Lenexa. The plot next to Barbara is reserved for Steve’s father, Ken.
The inscription on the headstone reads “Ken and Barbie Forever.”
“When my dad passes, they’ll be together again,” said Haddock, who hopes his father will be able to visit the grave before then.
But that may not be possible, as Ken is serving a life sentence at Lansing Correctional Facility for Barbara’s murder.
In a complicated legal case, Steve and his two sisters, Jen and Jody, have been fighting for the release of their father for nearly two decades, never losing faith in his innocence.
“There was never, ever any thought in our minds that our dad could have done this,” Steve said.
With the assistance of the Kansas University School of Law Project for Innocence, formerly the Defender Project, they’re hoping the Kansas Supreme Court will soon grant their father’s release.
“We just dream about the day we get the call and we can go pick up our dad,” Steve said.
The crime scene
Jen and Jody Haddock, 13 and 15 at the time, returned to their family home in Overland Park from school on Nov. 20, 1992. Food was on the stove and the fireplace was going. The daughters didn’t see their mother, so began searching the home. In the garage, they found her, dead under a pile of wood. Blood covered the garage floor.
The daughters called police, and Steve and Ken arrived at the home shortly thereafter.
After finding their mother dead, Jen said, the family was taken to the police station, where they all were strip-searched for scratches and interrogated for hours.
“Basically, each one of us was a suspect,” Jen said.
Following their mother’s murder, the Haddock children faced another shock when police arrested Ken a few days after the funeral, and one day after Thanksgiving.
KU Project for Innocence
Kansas University School of Law students have been successful in the past year and a half helping 10 defendants get new trials through the Project for Innocence and Post-Conviction Remedies.
“We usually have a couple or three students each year who have some measure of success on their direct appeal cases,” said Rick Kittel, supervising attorney. “But this many outright winning cases is unusual.”
Kittel works with the students on the cases, which range from drug possession to sexual assault. The students look for various issues in criminal cases that may have led to unfair trials for indigent defendants.
Kittel said the recent numbers show the level of dedication of the students involved in the project. For more about the Project for Innocence, visit law.ku.edu/clinics.
“It’s something you only think happens in the movies,” said Steve, who was 17 at the time. “At that point, everything’s just coming down on you.”
Johnson County prosecutors’ theory of the crime at trial was that Ken, under immense marital and mental stress from a pending prison sentence for federal bank fraud charges, bludgeoned Barbara with an unidentified weapon following an argument.
“He snapped,” said Lannie Ornburn, the Johnson County assistant district attorney who’s been handling the appeals for the past four years.
In a critical piece of evidence, wood from a woodpile was stacked on Barbara after the murder. Ornburn said the scene was “orchestrated” to make it look like Barbara was killed when the wood accidentally fell on top of her.
The woodpile had fallen earlier that fall, and Ornburn said that Ken, when arriving on the scene, aroused suspicions by speculating to police that Barbara was killed accidentally by the wood.
Other evidence used at trial included bloodstains on Ken’s pants and shoes, plus two hairs found in Barbara’s hand. Early DNA testing was unable to positively identify the blood, but analysts were able to narrow possibilities on the hairs. Jurors, who convicted Ken of first-degree murder, were told that Ken was among only 7 percent of the Caucasian population from whom the hair could have come.
Ken’s defense team, however, argued that Ken had an alibi. Barbara was wearing a watch that was broken, presumably during the crime. The watch was stopped at 3:16 p.m., but a receipt from a Wendy’s restaurant showed Ken had made a purchase there at 3:18 p.m. Given the distance between the home and the restaurant, Ken could not have been at the murder scene at the time the watch stopped. Watch experts testified for both sides at trial, and while the watch could have been altered, both experts testified there was no evidence it had been.
Growing up strong
The three Haddock children, supported by friends and family, were forced to face life without their parents following the murder.
“In many ways, we did lose” both parents, Steve said. “We lost my mother, and then a week later, we lost my father.”
Steve married, started his own business, and has made sure his 1-year-old son, Henry, has a relationship with Ken, bringing him along on frequent visits to prison. Jody is a nurse in Denver, and Jen, also in Denver, is a hair stylist.
Alice White, from the Project for Innocence, said that despite the trauma the Haddock children have faced, they’ve all managed to lead steady lives, something rare in such cases.
“You would think this would completely destroy their lives,” she said. “I think we can all try to imagine what that would do to our family.”
Steve said he and his sisters overcame the obstacles they’ve faced because of their upbringing.
“I think it’s all how we were raised,” he said.
But family reunions, weddings and births all bring home a reminder of what they’ve been through — and who’s missing at those events.
Jen is getting married later this month without either parent at the wedding.
“It’s definitely a bittersweet time. ... Missing two very important people,” she said.
Decades of appeals
For years Ken, aided by various lawyers and the support of his children, has sought to prove his innocence. In the first case in Kansas using a new state law allowing additional DNA testing in murder cases, Ken obtained further testing on the original evidence, as well as a pair of glasses found at the scene. DNA on those glasses was from an unidentified female, but not Barbara or the daughters.
And the hairs, which at the time implicated Ken, proved also to be from an unidentified female — a fact that changes everything and should result in a new trial, says Beth Cateforis, one of Ken’s lawyers at the Project for Innocence.
“The results they presented at trial were that they were Ken’s hairs. That was a huge part of the state’s case,” Cateforis said. “This has the possibility of changing the outcome of the case.”
But Ornburn disagrees, saying the hairs could have been picked up from the garage, and don’t belong to the killer.
In addition, Ornburn said that some of the additional DNA testing proved blood on both Ken’s shoes and pants belonged to Barbara.
“The DNA evidence we have now is better than what we had at the first trial,” Ornburn said, adding that if Ken’s conviction is overturned, they’ll retry the case.
The debate over the evidence, and whether it’s strong enough for a new trial, was heard in the Kansas Supreme Court last year. The court sent the case back to Johnson County for a hearing, but Judge Franklin Davis ruled against granting a new trial. That decision is being appealed back to the higher court, a case expected to be heard in the fall.
A question of evidence
While the Haddock family’s unwavering support for their father has impressed the lawyers at the Project for Innocence, the court is left to weigh the evidence, not the emotion, said Ornburn.
“We routinely have people ... who refuse to believe one of their family members could do something this awful,” he said. “What we’re responsible for doing is looking at the evidence.”
It’s evidence that, regardless of any court ruling, will probably always be disputed by both the Haddock family and prosecutors.
And even if Ken Haddock is ever able to visit that cemetery with his three children, doubts will always remain about who murdered Barbara. The Haddocks say they’ve had their suspicions over the years about the unidentified woman whose hair was found at the scene, but Steve concedes that many of the questions in their mother’s murder will never be answered.
“In this lifetime, we probably will never know, truly, what happened,” Steve said.