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Fate of 'train deaths' case rests with jury

Posted By Sarah Foster On 08/09/1999 @ 1:00 am In Front Page | Comments Disabled

A federal jury in Little Rock, Ark., is deliberating whether
filmmaker Pat Matrisciana defamed two law enforcement officers in a
documentary dealing with the still-unsolved murders of two teen-age boys
in 1987.

Pulaski County sheriff deputies Jay Campbell and Kirk Lane are suing
the Hemet, Calif., documentary producer for $16 million for linking them
with the crime in his 60-minute video, “Obstruction of Justice: the Mena
Connection.”

The officers assert that Matrisciana, who produced “The Clinton
Chronicles,” made “Obstruction of Justice” primarily for financial gain,
hoping to exploit the “right-wing conspiracy theories about President
Clinton” who was running for re-election.

The video contends that some time after midnight on Aug. 23, 1987,
Kevin Ives, 17, and Don Henry, 16, stumbled onto a major drug drop in
the countryside west of Little Rock, not far from their home, and were
bludgeoned and stabbed to death by parties well-connected with Arkansas’
political power structure. Their bodies were placed on the tracks where
a train was certain to run over them, in order to make the deaths appear
accidental. Despite six investigations, including two grand juries, no
arrests have been made and the murderers of Ives and Henry remain at
large and officially unknown.

The film alleges a connection between the murders and subsequent
cover-up by corrupt law enforcement officers, drug traffickers and
people associated with then-Gov. Bill Clinton.

Near the end, the film states orally and in writing that eyewitnesses
had implicated several law enforcement officers as participants in the
deaths and subsequent cover-up, and named deputy sheriffs Jay Campbell
and Kirk Lane among them. At the time the two deputies worked as Pulaski
County sheriff’s office narcotics detectives; they are now sheriff’s
office lieutenants.

The script states, “Eyewitnesses have implicated Jay Campbell and
Kirk Lane in the murders and subsequent cover-up.”

Campbell and Lane deny having anything to do with the homicides, and
in 1997 sued Matrisciana for libel. Also named in the multimillion
dollar lawsuit are the filmmaker’s production company, Jeremiah Films,
and Citizens for Honest Government, a non-profit watchdog organization
which handles the distribution.

In the weeklong federal trial in Little Rock before a visiting judge,
U.S. District Judge Warren Urbom of Lincoln, Neb., Matrisciana focused
his defense on his First Amendment right to freedom of the press and his
reliance on those who actually researched the case, one of whom was an
attorney. These were primarily Kevin’s mother, Linda Ives; attorney Jean
Duffey, a former county prosecutor who headed an Arkansas drug task
force in 1990; and John Brown, a former homicide detective who worked
closely with Duffey and Ives on developing the content and script of the
video.

The defense suffered a severe setback when a key witness disappeared.

Last seen Tuesday at noon — with a “scared look” in his eyes –
Ronnie Godwin slipped quietly away from the federal courts building
where it was expected he’d testify.

According to Ives and Duffey, Godwin — whose name was made public
for the first time Tuesday — told them he had witnessed the actual
kidnapping of Kevin Ives and Don Henry about 2:30 a.m., the night of the
murder, from the parking lot of a small closed market near the railroad
tracks where their mutilated bodies were later found.

It was hoped that Godwin would tell the court what he saw that night
and to name the abductors, whom he privately identified to Ives and
Duffey as Jay Campbell and Kirk Lane.

“But there’s really no way to know that he would do that,” said John
Wheeler, media contact for the defense. “He might have said that — but
he was frightened and might just as well have refused to say anything
even under oath.”

Linda Ives testified Wednesday about the importance of Godwin to the
case.

Ives, who has spent years researching the case in an effort to bring
the killers of her son to justice, is convinced Campbell and Lane are
the “hands on killers of my son,” based in part on what Godwin has told
her.

Ives told the court she learned about Godwin from a State Police
report she had obtained early in the case through the Freedom of
Information Act. Godwin, who had been picked up on a DUI charge, told
police he had seen two teen-age boys at the pay phone outside the closed
grocery store where they had presumably run to call for help after
witnessing the drug drop. He said he saw two men, who he believed to be
undercover officers in plain clothes driving an unmarked police car,
pull up, wrestle one of the boys to the ground — and eventually throw
them both in the back of the patrol car where another officer waited,
and drive away with them.

Godwin gave a description of the men to the police that fits the
description of Campbell and Lane — long hair, over 6 feet tall, 200 or
so pounds — but as Campbell and Lane point out, that fits a number of
people, including others within the sheriff’s department. Godwin never
identified the men by name, at least not to the police.

Linda Ives and Jean Duffey claim he told them privately that he knew
them to be Jay Campbell and Kirk Lane.

Which was why Matrisciana and his attorney John Wesley Hall were
surprised to learn Godwin had been subpoenaed by the plaintiffs and his
name was on their list of witnesses scheduled to give testimony –
particularly when he had told the defense he did not want to testify for
anyone under any circumstances.

Turns out he wouldn’t have to. In hindsight the plaintiffs’ subpoena
of Godwin is viewed as being a very clever ploy.

Since she was a witness for the defense, Ives was not allowed in the
courtroom before presenting testimony, and spent Monday and Tuesday
morning with Godwin in the witness waiting room. Before breaking for
lunch Tuesday, Godwin was called before the judge, only to be released
from the subpoena by the plaintiffs without the defense attorney and
Matrisciana — who had both left the courtroom — being apprised of it.

“I’m out-a-here,” he told Ives who saw him in the hallway running
towards the exit. “They’ve released me from the subpoena.”

Ives says she begged him to stay and testify — that they were all
counting on him, but he reportedly refused and said he would not answer
“that question.”

Hall said Godwin had been followed after leaving the courthouse
Monday and was afraid to testify.

When Hall discovered Godwin had skipped, he requested the issuance of
a subpoena, which Judge Urbom granted.

It was too late. A private detective hired by the defense testified
Thursday he had not located the reluctant witness and believed he might
have left the state.

The quick disappearance was considered by the defense as a blow to
the case, and an admitted “tactical error on our part,” according to
Matrisciana, who regrets not having subpoenaed him for the defense to
assure him being on their witness list as well as on that of the
plaintiffs.

The jury was not allowed to hear testimony from Ives about the
conversation she had with Godwin Tuesday,

However, Godwin was not the only source of the “Campbell-Lane
scenario.”

Ives says she first learned about the alleged involvement of the pair
from Dan Harmon, who in 1988 headed a county grand jury investigation
into the deaths. The grand jury ruled the deaths were due to foul play,
not accidental as Arkansas medical examiner Fahmy Malek, a Clinton
crony, had previously ruled.

Harmon is presently serving an 11-year federal sentence for
racketeering, conspiracy and drug charges.

Campbell and Lane testified they were investigating Harmon and that
he spread rumors about their alleged involvement in the deaths in an
effort to save himself. The deputies said Harmon took advantage of the
general description given in Godwin’s police report, and subpoenaed them
to appear before the 1988 grand jury — but first spread the rumor that
“the killers” were about to testify.

Ives and Duffey testified that they became suspicious of Harmon, and
emphasized the scenario was corroborated by private investigator John
Brown, a Saline County detective at the time of the killings. Brown
participated in the production of the film, but denies ever singling out
Campbell and Lane for involvement in the crime. In fact he now says he
“warned” Matrisciana not to name the deputies in the video.

Under oath Brown testified he had not personally investigated the
involvement of deputies Campbell and Lane in the murders because that
phase of the operation was supposed to be handled by the FBI. However,
Brown did describe the Campbell-Lane scenario, which he said was
commonly known to several law enforcement agencies.

David Minasian — who edited the video — contradicted the veracity
of Brown’s testimony. Minasian swore that John Brown had told him,
Duffey and Ives that he believed Jay Campbell and Kirk Lane were the
actual killers. Minasian said that Brown, Ives and Duffey had control
over the final version of the film and that all three had approved the
final cut with its statement about Campbell and Ives. Minasian presented
handwritten notes — made at the time — of conversations he had had
with Brown as they were completing the film with those statements in
them. There was no evidence of Brown having raised any objection, and
Brown even bought 300 copies of the video.

Reached for comment, Matrisicana told WorldNetDaily that the last
thing the jury saw, before the plaintiff’s attorney delivered his
summary was video footage taken in 1994 showing John Brown saying that
Jay Campbell and Kirk Lane were murder suspects.

“He said it right on camera,” said Matrisciana. “And then we rested
our case.”

In his instructions Judge Urbom told the jury that “In order to win
the suit the jury must be convinced that the statements in the video –
that the deputies were implicated by eyewitnesses — was false and that
Matrisciana acted with reckless disregard for the truth when he allowed
the video to be distributed.

“To meet the legal standard for reckless disregard, Matrisiciana, or
Ives and Duffey acting in his behalf, would have to have had serious
doubts about the truth of the statement,” said Judge Urbom.

For information and updates on the case, Linda Ives and Jean Duffey
have a “Train Deaths” website.

 


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