Sunday, May 24, 2009
LIMON — Tim Kennedy tugs at the Department of Corrections No. 94886 tag on his green-blue prison uniform and says with a smile: "This number and stuff are dead. My convictions are overturned and I'm no longer a convicted felon. I'm all new."
Kennedy, 52, is hoping to be freed after he is transferred this week from a prison in Limon to El Paso County, where a judge overturned his conviction in a 1991 double murder and ordered a new trial.
El Paso County District Judge Thomas Kane's decision April 21 to toss out Kennedy's conviction in the slayings of 15-year-old Jennifer Carpenter and her boyfriend, 37-year-old Steve Staskiewicz, followed years of appeals capped by a 14-day hearing during which another possible suspect was named.
Kennedy could be released after a hearing Tuesday if prosecutors decide to drop the case or agree to $50,000 bail sought by Kennedy's attorneys, Kathleen Carlson and John Dicke, who have been fighting for Kennedy's release since 2006.
El Paso County District Attorney Dan May has declined to talk publicly about the case.
During an interview Thursday at the Limon Correctional Facility on the Eastern Plains about 95 miles east of Denver, Kennedy cherished the thought of being a free man. Apart from spending time with his sister and brother, one of the first things Kennedy would do if he is freed is get a steak dinner.
"It's really great to think that I actually have a chance at getting my life back," he said. "I tell you what, boy, it's been a long, long haul."
Carpenter, a runaway, was the alleged victim in a 1991 case accusing Charles Stroud and Rebecca Corkins of kidnapping and sexually assaulting her. Prosecutors had learned that a "hit" had been put out on Carpenter and were scrambling to take her testimony under oath when she and Staskiewicz were slain in his trailer.
Kennedy had lent Staskiewicz, his friend, two TVs and a stereo for entertainment while the couple waited out the hit. Kennedy also lent Staskiewicz three guns for protection, including an AMT 380 handgun that was the murder weapon.
After the killings, Kennedy said, investigators immediately tried connecting him to Stroud and Corkins, whom he had never met. Kennedy was interviewed by an investigator at his apartment, which along with his car, was searched 10 days after the slaying.
"They didn't find anything," Carlson said, "which is an interesting part of this case because the scene is extremely bloody."
Nevertheless, investigators arrested Kennedy nearly five years later. Their theory: Kennedy killed Staskiewicz and Carpenter over the items, including the guns, he had lent them.
Kennedy grew up in Denver and worked as a carpenter, helping build several of downtown Denver's skyscrapers. His only brush with the law before the slayings was a minor offense of possession of an injection device. He was trying to start a trash collection business in Colorado Springs when he came under suspicion for the slayings.
He was living with his parents in Denver when El Paso County sheriff's deputies arrested him on Dec. 21, 1995. He had just finished eating breakfast and was planning to decorate the family Christmas tree.
"I got a phone call. And it says, 'Yeah, Mr. Kennedy, this is the sheriff's department. We're outside. We need you to come out to the front yard,'" Kennedy recounted.
He's been in custody ever since.
At trial, the only physical evidence linking Kennedy to the crime was the FBI's comparative bullet lead analysis, which purported to be able to trace a bullet from a crime scene to a box of bullets in a suspect's possession. That technique has since been discredited as "exceeding the limits of science" and the FBI stopped the analysis in 2005.
"This was the first time that I really had any involvement in the justice system," Kennedy said. "I had faith in the justice system. So did my parents. I thought justice worked in this country, I really did."
In overturning Kennedy's conviction, Judge Kane listed several factors that could win Kennedy an acquittal:
— His defense attorney at trial failed to develop an adequate alternative suspect theory by relying on investigative files and not interviewing witnesses who had information about a murder conspiracy involving other people.
— The FBI's comparative bullet lead analysis.
— Prosecutors had a jailhouse letter in their files as part of another case that should have been turned over to Kennedy's attorney that could have been used to prove his innocence. There are no allegations of wrongdoing by prosecutors.
— Lack of DNA evidence on the victims' clothing and on a sponge believed to have been used as a silencer during the slayings.
Investigators said the killer dragged Staskiewicz's body across the floor and carried Carpenter's body "like a bride" over to Staskiewicz. DNA tests conducted by Dutch expert Richard Eikelenboom for Kennedy's lawyers found none of Kennedy's DNA on clothing where the killer would have touched the victims, or on the sponge.
Eikelenboom's testing helped overturn the conviction and life sentence of Timothy Masters in the 1987 slaying of Peggy Hettrick in Fort Collins. Masters, freed in January 2008, was the first person in Colorado released from prison because of DNA evidence. Hettrick's slaying remains unsolved.
Based on witness testimony at trial, Dicke believes Staskiewicz and Carpenter let their guard down and allowed a friend into the trailer, who then used Kennedy's gun to kill the couple when they fell asleep.
That friend has been named in court documents but has not been charged in the slayings. That friend was also quoted by a witness in court as saying he used "some dumb (expletive's)" gun and called it "a gift from God."
"I wouldn't mind going to trial," Kennedy said. "You know, all these people think it will be a nightmare. I really wouldn't mind. I'm not scared at all."
Kennedy's mother, Lois June Kennedy, died in 2005 at the age of 83. His father, John Francis Kennedy, died in 2007 at age 85.
"There are times when it brings you to tears when you think about how lucky you are, how things have worked out, how your family stayed with you," Kennedy said. "There's a lot of wonderful things that have come out of this situation. You know, I'll never forget my parents. They spent their life savings (on his defense). Even after that you know, they stuck with me through the rest of their lives.
"There was never any suspicion or fear or nothing at all because they know I'm not a murderer."
Corkins completed a prison sentence in 1997 for criminal attempt and drug abuse stemming from the original Carpenter case, according to Department of Corrections records.
Corkins said recently she was surprised when she was served a subpoena last year to testify as part of Kennedy's request for a new trial. She said she didn't know about the slayings until she saw it on television in 1991.
Stroud is serving a 50-year sentence in a state prison in Canon City for kidnapping in the Carpenter case. Stroud declined a request for comment sent through prison officials.