Court: Attorney can’t claim immunity in Floyd Bledsoe case

photo by: Journal-World File Photo

Jefferson County Attorney Jim Vanderbilt is pictured in court in this file photo from 2000.

Story updated at 2:33 p.m. Thursday

TOPEKA — A federal appeals court has ruled that a former Kansas county prosecutor does not have absolute immunity in lawsuits filed by a man who spent nearly 16 years in prison for a murder his brother later confessed to committing in a suicide note.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Aug. 16 upheld a lower court ruling in a lawsuit filed by Floyd Bledsoe against former Jefferson County prosecutor Jim Vanderbilt and others, who Bledsoe claims fabricated evidence and conspired to convict him in the 1999 rape and murder of 14-year-old Camille Arfmann near Oskaloosa, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported .

Bledsoe was released from prison in 2015 after his brother, Tom, killed himself and said in a note that he had killed the girl. Bledsoe received a $1 million settlement in May from the state of Kansas for his wrongful conviction and incarceration.

Bledsoe filed a federal lawsuit alleging his constitutional rights were violated by Jefferson County officials, including Vanderbilt.

“We affirm the district court’s decision that defendant Vanderbilt does not enjoy absolute immunity from suit for allegedly fabricating evidence against plaintiff during the preliminary investigation of C.A.’s (Camille Arfmann) murder,” the appellate court said.

Arfmann was kidnapped and shot to death in rural Jefferson County in November 1999. Tom Bledsoe was originally charged with murder after he confessed led authorities to the body. But shortly afterward, those charges were dropped and Floyd Bledsoe was arrested. He was convicted in 2000 of murder, kidnapping and indecent liberties with a child and sentenced to life in prison.

Floyd Bledsoe was freed in 2015 after DNA testing showed evidence implicated his brother in the case. Tom Bledsoe killed himself and left several notes confessing to the crimes, including a note that said, in part, “I sent an innocent man to prison. The Jefferson County police and county attorney Jim Vanderbilt made me do it.”

Vanderbilt’s law license was suspended in 2005 and again in 2011 for violations in other cases. It has not been reinstated. His attorney, Patric Linden, said Vanderbilt did not want to comment because the case is still in litigation.


Timeline: Floyd Bledsoe murder conviction overturned

● May 23, 2019 — State to compensate Floyd Bledsoe $1M for wrongful conviction

● 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

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