Judge throws out 2000 murder conviction, frees Oskaloosa man after 15 years in prison

Floyd Bledsoe, center, walks out of Jefferson County District Court on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, after a judge released him from prison and overturned his April 2000 conviction in a first-degree murder case. Accompanying Bledsoe are Kansas University Innocence Project attorneys Jean Phillips, left, and Elizabeth Cateforis, right.

? Floyd Scott Bledsoe was set free Tuesday after a Jefferson County judge overturned his life sentence for the 1999 murder of his 14-year-old sister-in-law.

New evidence, including DNA evidence and three suicide letters written by his brother Tom Bledsoe, indicate that Floyd Bledsoe was not the killer. Floyd Bledsoe spent more than 15 years in prison.

In the suicide letters that were found with his body in November, Tom Bledsoe, 41, admits to killing Zetta Camille Arfmann, and says he accidentally shot her after he had sex with her and learned that she was only 14.

During the Tuesday hearing, Floyd Bledsoe, 39, whose feet were shackled, remained sitting but broke into a broad grin after Jefferson County District Court Judge Gary Nafziger, who presided over his murder trial and sentencing, announced “the defendant is to be released.”

The more than 40 people in the courtroom broke into applause, and some started crying.

During a news conference in front of the courthouse, Floyd Bledsoe told reporters that he planned to go back to “milking cows.”

“It’s all just barely sinking in,” he said. “I just want to take everything slow.”

The case has had many twists and turns.

After Arfmann went missing in 1999, Tom Bledsoe confessed to the crime and told authorities that they could find her body in a ditch that was used as a dump, Kirk Vernon, Jefferson County captain of detectives, testified Tuesday. Vernon was a young detective when the murder occurred and followed up on some of the leads.

Tom Bledsoe was charged with the girl’s murder but a few days later changed his story and said his brother, Floyd Bledsoe, told him he had done it. Floyd Bledsoe was married to Arfmann’s sister at the time.

At the trial, the only evidence that the prosecution had against Floyd Bledsoe was his brother’s testimony.

Floyd Bledsoe was convicted in April 2000 of first-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping and aggravated indecent liberties.

Attorneys with the Project for Innocence and Post-Conviction Remedies at Kansas University joined the legal fray for Floyd Bledsoe, and a report released in late October showed that semen from Arfmann’s body likely belonged to Tom Bledsoe.

The DNA also implicated the brothers’ father, also named Floyd Bledsoe; the odds are one in 20 sextillion that DNA evidence found on the girl’s left sock was not the father’s, Vernon testified.

After the Project for Innocence report was released, a hearing to consider releasing Floyd Bledsoe was scheduled for Tuesday.

But on Nov. 9, Tom Bledsoe’s body was found in his car in the Bonner Springs Wal-Mart parking lot. He had died by suicide. He was found with a bag on his head, and his left arm was bandaged from where he had apparently tried to take his own life a few days before, Vernon said.

In the letters to his wife, his parents and “To Whomever Cares,” he said he had been tortured by the guilt of what he had done.

Vernon read each of the letters into the court record.

“I sent a (sic) innocent man to prison,” Tom Bledsoe wrote. “The CA (county attorney) made me lie.”

He added that the Jefferson County attorney, who was Jim Vanderbilt at the time, also “told me to keep my mouth shut.”

Bledsoe wrote that the shooting was accidental, that he had taken the girl to the dump, that he pushed her down to scare her, and that the gun discharged, hitting her in the back of the head. He did not explain why she had three bullet holes in her chest.

“All I can say is sorry,” he wrote. “I seek forgiveness, but I don’t deserve it.”

Vernon said the Jefferson County Sheriff’s detectives along with the Kansas Bureau of Investigation are continuing the investigation. Tom Bledsoe’s letter had included a diagram of the murder scene, explaining that a shell casing was still there. Detectives 16 years ago had recovered only three of the four shell casings, Vernon said.

Recently investigators returned to the site and found a shell casing compatible with the 9mm gun used in the killing.

They are now trying to determine if the casing and the gun match.

In addition, detectives are continuing to have discussions with the brothers’ father and mother, who live in Texas.

On Tuesday, Floyd Bledsoe was asked how he feels about his brother.

He declined to comment.

“I’m ready to move beyond the last 15 or 16 years and into the next 50, 60, 70 years,” he said. “I can’t do anything about the past. All I can do is change the future.”

Timeline: Floyd Bledsoe murder conviction overturned

● May 29, 2016 — Lawsuit filed by wrongfully convicted man details how law enforcement officials allegedly framed him

● May 21, 2016 — Floyd Bledsoe, wrongfully imprisoned for 15 years, pushes to end death penalty in Kansas

● May 10, 2016 — Floyd Bledsoe, wrongfully imprisoned for 15 years, says he was ‘framed,’ files lawsuit against Kansas justice officials

● Feb. 12, 2016 — Wrongfully convicted Floyd Bledsoe seeks videotaped interrogations in Kansas

● Feb. 8, 2016 — Kansas bill would allow $235K for wrongfully convicted man who spent 15 years in prison

● Jan. 18, 2016 — Jefferson County attorney doesn’t expect further action against former sheriff, others involved in wrongful murder conviction

● Jan. 17, 2016 — Bledsoe case spurs measure to allow compensation for wrongful convictions

● Jan. 10, 2016 — Requiring that police interrogations be recorded might have prevented tragedy of wrongful conviction

● Dec. 30, 2015 — ‘Who are you going to tell?’ — Floyd Bledsoe, wrongfully convicted of murder, discusses pain of prison, journey to forgiveness

● Dec. 27, 2015 — 1999 Oskaloosa murder case reopened; possibility that killer ‘had assistance’

● Dec. 13, 2015 — Web of lies, indifference to justice led to wrong Kansas brother being imprisoned for more than 15 years

● Dec. 13, 2015 — Kansas has no law on payouts for wrongly incarcerated prisoners

Dec. 8, 2015 — Judge throws out 2000 murder conviction, frees Oskaloosa man after 15 years in prison

● Nov. 13, 2015 — Original suspect in girl’s murder dies of apparent suicide as case about to be revisited

● Oct. 21, 2015 — KU Project for Innocence, Midwest Innocence Project seeks to free convicted murderer with DNA evidence

● July 8, 2012 — Objection to DNA testing not likely

● June 20, 2012 — Motion seeks DNA testing in 1999 murder of teen

● Sept. 30, 2009 — Further appeals limited in Bledsoe case

● July 5, 2009 — 1999 murder case won’t settle

● June 28, 2009 — Federal court reverses release in murder case

● Oct. 7, 2008 — Floyd Bledsoe, sentenced to life for murder of teen sister-in-law, set free; ineffective assistance of counsel cited

● Feb. 3, 2007 — Court upholds murder conviction

● Feb. 2, 2002 — Murder conviction is upheld

● Dec. 5, 2001 — Attorneys appeal conviction of teen-ager’s murderer

● Dec. 2, 2001 — Oskaloosa murder case to be heard

● July 15, 2000 — Victim’s family unsure justice was served

● July 15, 2000 — Bledsoe gets life

● July 14, 2000 — Bledsoe sentenced to life in prison

● June 23, 2000 — Bledsoe sentencing delayed

● May 31, 2000 — Lawyer: Mother’s story changes

● April 30, 2000 — Minister supports Bledsoe in spirit

● April 28, 2000 — Bledsoe found guilty

● April 28, 2000 — Bledsoe murder case goes to jury

● April 27, 2000 — Bledsoe charges amended

● April 27, 2000 — Bledsoe prosecution rests

● April 27, 2000 — Bledsoe murder trial wrapping up

● April 26, 2000 — Tom Bledsoe seeks to explain lies

● April 26, 2000 — Bledsoe told his mother he didn’t kill Arfmann

● April 25, 2000 — Pool of potential jurors knows all about case

● April 25 2000 — Trial starts in murder of girl, 14

● April 24, 2000 — Murder trial to begin today

● Dec. 10, 1999 — Family of victim tries to cope with pain, loss

● Dec. 10, 1999 — Murder suspect enters innocent plea

● Dec. 9, 1999 — Murder suspect to be arraigned

● Nov. 30, 1999 — Case pits brother vs. brother

● Nov. 18, 1999 — Friends relieved charges were dismissed against Oskaloosa man

● Nov. 16, 1999 — Wife proclaims husband’s innocence in girl’s death

● Nov. 14, 1999 — In-law jailed in slaying of teen-ager

● Nov. 14, 1999 — Family, friends mourn Camille

● Nov. 10, 1999 — Quiet hearing for defendant charged with girl’s slaying

● Nov. 10, 1999 — Bledsoe recieves murder charge

● Nov. 9, 1999 — Police hold relative of slain girl

● Nov. 9, 1999 — Girl’s death leaves family, children with questions