A federal civil rights lawsuit filed Tuesday by Floyd Bledsoe, who was wrongfully imprisoned for 15 years for rape and murder, accuses the Jefferson County prosecutors and sheriff’s deputies and three former KBI agents of conspiring to frame him.
The lawsuit filed in Kansas City, Kan., federal district court accuses law enforcement officials, including former Jefferson County Attorney Jim Vanderbilt and former Sheriff Roy Dunnaway, of fabricating testimony and evidence.
It names current Sheriff Jeffrey Herrig, who was undersheriff at the time, as well as a number of other sheriff’s deputies and unknown sheriff’s deputies and KBI agents.
“Today is the day we start a journey to find the truth, to find out why things went the way they did,” Bledsoe said Tuesday at a news conference at the Midwest Innocence Project offices on Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza.
“It wasn’t a decision that was easy to make,” said Bledsoe who was with three of his attorneys. “But ultimately accountability has to happen. People cannot just randomly pick and choose what they want and who they want to blame. And for that very reason we are here today.”
Bledsoe, 39, was released from prison after his brother, Tom Bledsoe, committed suicide in Bonner Springs in November of last year and left a note confessing for the second time to killing Zetta "Camille" Arfmann, 14, who was the sister of Floyd’s then wife.
On Tuesday he was with attorneys Russell Ainsworth, Ruth Brown and Theresa Kleinhaus of Loevy & Loevy, a national law firm, whom he recently hired.
Ainsworth said the firm specializes in wrongful conviction cases across the country and has won several multimillion dollar judgments. In Chicago alone the firm has amassed more than $100 million in settlements involving police misconduct and brutality, according to Crain’s, a Chicago business publication.
On Nov. 5, 1999, Arfmann went missing, and Floyd and his wife called police and friends to try to find her. But by the end of the weekend, Floyd’s brother had confessed first to his pastor, then to his parents, then to his pastor again, to sheriff’s deputies and finally to Vanderbilt, the county attorney.
Ainsworth said Tom provided details only the killer would know. But within a short period, Tom’s story had changed and Floyd was charged with the crime.
Ainsworth said several questions have not been answered, including: “Why was an innocent man sent to prison for over 15 years for a crime he did not commit? Why did the police and the prosecutor go to such lengths to prosecute the man they knew to be innocent, and free a killer?”
Ainsworth said documents were missing. There are no sheriff’s reports to document Tom’s confessions and how Tom came to change his story to say his brother killed Arfmann.
“Sixteen years later, we have not been provided any police reports documenting Tom’s initial statements and confessions to the police, which is extremely suspicious,” Ainsworth said. “When you have a case where someone is confessing to murder, Homicide 101 tells you to write down the confessions. Had Floyd had the initial confession documented and provided to him, he would have know that Tom was providing facts that could only have been known by the true killer.”
Ainsworth pointed to Tom’s suicide note: “I sent a innocent man to prison,” Tom, 41, wrote. “The Jefferson County police and county attorney Jim Vanderbilt made me do it. I was told by Vanderbilt to keep my mouth shut. Now I am going to set things right.”
Vanderbilt was eventually disbarred over problems in other criminal cases, as well as over personal problems, including failing to pay $60,000 in back child support. He could not be reached for comment.
Dunnaway has retired and lives in the Perry Lake area. He too could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but told the Journal-World last year that he did not do anything wrong.
The lawsuit also names Michael Hayes, the criminal defense attorney who represented Tom, as part of the conspiracy. Hayes “acted in concert with” others and “reached a meeting of the minds,” the lawsuit said.
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