The U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver issued a decision rejecting claims of qualified immunity by Jefferson County law enforcement officers sued by Floyd Bledsoe, who was wrongfully convicted of murder and spent 16 years in prison. (Getty Images))
TOPEKA — The U.S. Court of Appeals rejected an appeal by Kansas law enforcement officers seeking qualified immunity for actions leading to wrongful conviction of a Jefferson County man who spent 16 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit.
Floyd Bledsoe, awarded $1 million by the state three years ago in compensation for the improper conviction, had been found guilty in the 1999 slaying of a 14-year-old Camille Arfmann in Oskaloosa.
In 2015, DNA testing and a suicide note from Bledsoe’s brother, Tom, supported Floyd Bledsoe’s claim of innocence. Floyd Bledsoe’s convictions were vacated, charges dismissed and he was released.
Floyd Bledsoe filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in 2016 against 10 defendants, most of whom were Kansas law enforcement officers, alleging he was framed by prosecutors, police and his brother’s attorney. The defendants appealed a U.S. District Court judge’s decision allowing Floyd Bledsoe’s lawsuit to proceed and rejecting the law enforcement claims of immunity.
In a decision released Tuesday, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals declared Floyd Bledsoe adequately alleged due process and Fourth Amendment claims against defendants for evidence fabrication, suppression of exculpatory evidence, malicious prosecution and conspiracy.
The Court of Appeals affirmed the core of the district court decision denying law enforcement claims of qualified immunity and a motion to dismiss the suit.
“We conclude that Bledsoe adequately alleged that each appellant participated in depriving him of his constitutional rights,” the appeals court’s decision said. “The district court, thus, correctly denied each appellant qualified immunity on Bledsoe’s substantive constitutional claims, and on his conspiracy and personal participation theories of liability.”
Originally, Tom Bledsoe confessed to the murder but later accused Floyd Bledsoe, who was found guilty of first-degree murder, kidnapping and indecent liberties with a child in 2000. The Kansas Supreme Court upheld Floyd Bledsoe’s convictions in 2004.
Floyd Bledsoe secured representation by the Paul E. Wilson Project for Innocence and Post-Conviction Remedies at Kansas University School of Law. DNA testing sought by legal counsel with the innocence project excluded Floyd Bledsoe as perpetrator of the crimes.
Innocence project lawyers also learned of a document signed by the Jefferson County prosecutor, the county sheriff and a representative of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation prior to Floyd’s trial agreeing there would not be any DNA testing of the evidence.
In 2015, lawyers for Floyd Bledsoe filed a motion to vacate his convictions and sentence based on DNA test results. Tom Bledsoe responded by committing suicide in Bonner Springs. He left behind notes admitting he killed Arfmann after raping her.
In one note addressed to his parents, Tom Bledsoe wrote: “Floyd is innocent.” In another, Tom Bledsoe said the prosecuting attorney ordered him to lie and implicate his brother.
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