When Kyle Breeden went missing from the Louisville area in October 1998, his on-again, off-again girlfriend Susan Jean King told his mother she had a vision during prayer that he would be found in water. Days later, Breeden’s body was found floating in the Kentucky River with two gunshot wounds to the head. His legs had been tied with a guitar-amplifier cord.
Kentucky State Police investigated King and several other suspects. Twice detectives tried to get a warrant to search her house after hearing there were bullet holes in her kitchen floor, but they didn’t meet probable cause standards. King said the holes had been there for years and occurred during an argument with another man.
“I always cooperated with the police,” she told The Washington Post in a phone interview.
The sergeant in charge of the investigation wrote in his notes that he didn’t think she did it. Eventually, leads on all of the suspects dried up.
Nearly seven years later, in 2006, a state police detective, Todd Harwood, got the cold case. This time, a judge granted a search warrant, and Harwood took a section of King’s kitchen floor to compare the bullets embedded in it with those found in Breeden’s skull.
Harwood later told a grand jury the results of the tests were inconclusive, although both sets of bullets were .22 caliber. He testified the floor had been cleaned with a solvent that scraped away a layer of linoleum. According to King, Harwood testified that phone records showed King stopped calling Breeden before his body had been found, as though she already knew he was dead. His theory was that King shot Breeden in her home, dragged his body to her car, drove to the Gratz Bridge, threw his body over the railing, and then cleaned the blood from the crime scene.
None of it was true. And now a U.S. Court of Appeals has determined that King can sue Harwood for “malicious prosecution” and the tragic consequences that followed.
According to court documents, a state police firearms examiner actually told Harwood the bullets didn’t match. A lab report said no cleaning solvents were found on the floor sample. Phone records showed King rarely called Breeden anyway; he usually called her.
And when Harwood filed an affidavit for the warrant, he failed to mention that King weighed 100 pounds and had only one leg. She also alleges he failed to mention this in his grand jury testimony. At the time of the murder, she didn’t have a prosthetic limb and got around on crutches. Throwing a nearly 200-pound man over a bridge would have been physically impossible.
But King was indicted on a charge of murder on April 5, 2007, the same day as the grand jury hearing. Harwood personally arrested her, telling her he’d make sure “she got the electric chair,” she said. Her beloved dog, Susie Q, sat on her porch waiting for her return for months, until someone came and put the starving animal to sleep.
“That was the worst thing of all of it,” she said, crying.
According to her complaint, King’s court-appointed attorney didn’t believe she was innocent and encouraged her to accept a plea bargain.
In September 2008, King pleaded guilty on a reduced charge of second-degree manslaughter, while maintaining her innocence. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison and shipped off to the Kentucky Correctional Institute for Women in Pewee Valley.
“[The guards] were rough on me. They’d be put me in with the roughest of the rough to try to break me,” she said. She said she was beaten repeatedly and lost all but five of her teeth. She was also denied crutches, which could be used a weapon, and had to use a wheelchair, she said.
At the same time, Harwood was given a 2009 “commissioner’s commendation” for “outstanding achievement” in closing the case, court documents note.
That might have been the end of the story, if not for a diligent narcotics police officer in the Louisville Metro Police Department. In May 2012, Detective Barron Morgan was interrogating a suspect about another crime. While trying to cut a deal, the man, Richard Jarrell Jr., confessed to killing Breeden, and he knew details of the crime that had never been made public.
Morgan notified the state police. A week later, Harwood interrogated Jarrell, who then recanted his confession. Harwood claimed to have lost his tape recording of the interrogation. King’s lawyers allege Harwood pressured him to recant.
That’s when Morgan sent a copy of the confession to the Kentucky Innocence Project, which had already been looking at King’s case.
“When they told me the good news that there’d been a confession,” King said, “I dropped my head on the table and cried and cried and thought, ‘Maybe now they’ll believe me.’”
It took another two years of legal wrangling before her conviction was vacated on July 18, 2014, by the Kentucky Court of Appeals, which called her conviction “an egregious violation.” Police misconduct and ineffective counsel are listed as the causes of her wrongful conviction on a state government website.
When she was released from prison, “all I had to my name was a gray jogging suit and my one shoe,” she told The Post.
Rebuilding her old life has proven impossible, she said. Her old friends were either ashamed to be seen with her or had become addicted to drugs, she said, so she now prefers the company of her service dog and two therapy cats. Her cosmetology certificate expired while she was in prison, and, at 56, she said she’s “too old” to go through school again. She survives on disability payments and food stamps.
“I lost my house, my job, my dogs, my looks, my teeth,” she said. “I think I deserve some money for it.”
In October 2015, King filed a complaint against Harwood, his supervisors and the Kentucky State Police. A district court judge threw out the lawsuit last year, but on Monday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit partially reversed the decision, saying King could proceed with her lawsuit against Harwood only.
“The good Lord brought me through all this stuff and now the devil’s going to get his due,” she said.
If successful, she wouldn’t be first person to win a lawsuit related to her case. Morgan, the officer who told the Innocence Project about the real killer’s confession, was demoted soon after the revelation. He later won $450,000 in a whistleblower lawsuit. Another officer who was fired after supporting Morgan also sued, unsuccessfully.
“I’d still be a convicted murderer if it wasn’t for those two guys,” King said.
According to the Courier-Journal, Harwood is still on the state police force and has been promoted to lieutenant. The agency did not respond to Post requests for comment and to speak with Harwood.
If King wins any monetary damages, she said the first thing she’ll do is visit a dentist.
“And then I got to figure out how me and God are going to forgive this idiot.”
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