Judge throws out Kansas man’s murder conviction

OSKALOOSA, Kan. (AP) — A man who served more than 15 years of a life sentence for the 1999 shooting death of his sister-in-law was freed Tuesday after his brother confessed in suicide notes that he was the actual killer and had “sent an innocent man to prison.”

Floyd Bledsoe, 39, broke into a broad grin when Jefferson County District Court Judge Gary Nafziger, who presided over his 2000 murder trial and sentencing, announced “the defendant is to be released.” Afterward, freed of shackles and having traded prison garb for a flannel shirt and blue jeans, Bledsoe told reporters that he was longing for a steak, a return to milking cows and “something peaceful and quiet for a while.”

“It’s all just barely sinking in,” Bledsoe told reporters outside the courthouse where a sheriff’s investigator, Kirk Vernon, had testified that new DNA evidence cleared Bledsoe and implicated brother Tom Bledsoe in the death of 14-year-old Camille Arfmann.

Just weeks after the DNA findings unfavorable to him were made public, Tom Bledsoe was found dead in his vehicle, with his death subsequently ruled a suicide. Three letters by Bledsoe were found near his body — one to his wife, one to his parents and the third “to whomever cares.”

His missive to his parents pressed that “Floyd is innocent,” and that the prosecutor at his brother’s trial “made me lie and keep my mouth shut.” Another note admitted, “I sent an innocent man to prison” and “I raped and murdered a 14-year-old girl.”

“All I can say is sorry to all, and I seek forgiveness,” Tom Bledsoe wrote. “But I don’t deserve any, not even from God.”

Although Vernon said Arfmann had been shot four times, investigators found only three spent shell casings. Authorities found the fourth casing an inch below ground after Tom Bledsoe directed them to it in one of his suicide notes, complete with a diagram of its location.

Vernon did not say why one brother would have blamed the other for the crime. Asked about it outside the courthouse, Floyd Bledsoe grappled for words before a supporter cut the interview short.

“I can’t change the past,” Bledsoe said.

From the case’s outset, Vernon testified, Tom Bledsoe was the lead suspect in the death of Arfmann, who was last seen as she stepped off her school bus at the Oskaloosa home — about 45 miles west of Kansas City — she shared with Floyd Bledsoe, her sister and their two children. Her body was discovered three days later in a trash ditch near the home of the Bledsoes’ parents.

Tom Bledsoe initially confessed, then recanted and blamed his brother, who always maintained his innocence. Floyd Bledsoe was convicted of first-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping and aggravated indecent liberties, with Tom Bledsoe testifying against him.

Attorneys with the Project for Innocence and Post-Conviction Remedies at the University of Kansas argued on Floyd Bledsoe’s behalf that a new report showed sperm from Arfmann’s body likely belonged to Tom Bledsoe.

On Tuesday, the county’s top prosecutor, Jason Belveal, did not dispute that and asked for Floyd Bledsoe’s conviction to be scrapped and the charges vacated. Belveal later told The Associated Press it was unlikely he would continue pursuing the case, acknowledging the key witness against Floyd Bledsoe — his brother — “is gone now.”