LAWRENCE — Steve Haddock visits the grave of his mother, Barbara, a few times a year at the St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery in Lenexa.
The plot next to Barbara is reserved for Steve's father, Ken. The inscription on the headstone reads "Ken and Barbie Forever."
"When my dad passes, they'll be together again," said Haddock, who hopes his father will be able to visit the grave before then.
But that may not be possible because Ken Haddock is serving a life sentence at Lansing Correctional Facility for Barbara's murder.
In a complicated legal case, Steve and his two sisters, Jen and Jody, have been fighting for the release of their father for nearly two decades, never losing faith in his innocence.
"There was never, ever any thought in our minds that our dad could have done this," Steve Haddock said.
With the assistance of the Kansas University School of Law Project for Innocence, formerly the Defender Project, they're hoping the Kansas Supreme Court will soon grant their father's release.
Jen and Jody Haddock, 13 and 15 at the time, returned to their family home in Overland Park from school on Nov. 20, 1992. Food was on the stove and the fireplace was going. The daughters didn't see their mother, so they began searching the home. In the garage, they found her, dead under a pile of wood. Blood covered the garage floor.
The daughters called police, and Steve and Ken arrived at the home shortly thereafter.
The Haddock children faced another shock when police arrested Ken a few days after the funeral, and one day after Thanksgiving.
"It's something you only think happens in the movies," said Steve, who was 17 at the time. "At that point, everything's just coming down on you."
Johnson County prosecutors' theory of the crime at trial was that Ken, under immense marital and mental stress from a pending prison sentence for federal bank fraud charges, bludgeoned Barbara with an unidentified weapon following an argument.
"He snapped," said Lannie Ornburn, the Johnson County assistant district attorney who's been handling the appeals for the past four years.
In a critical piece of evidence, wood from a woodpile was stacked on Barbara after the murder. Ornburn said the scene was "orchestrated" to make it look like Barbara was killed when the wood accidentally fell on top of her.
The woodpile had fallen earlier that fall, and Ornburn said that Ken, when arriving on the scene, aroused suspicions by speculating to police that Barbara was killed accidentally by the wood.
Other evidence used at trial included bloodstains on Ken's pants and shoes, plus two hairs found in Barbara's hand. Early DNA testing was unable to positively identify the blood, but analysts were able to narrow possibilities on the hairs. Jurors, who convicted Ken of first-degree murder, were told that Ken was among only 7 percent of the Caucasian population from whom the hair could have come.
Ken's defense team, however, argued that Ken had an alibi. Barbara was wearing a watch that was broken, presumably during the crime. The watch was stopped at 3:16 p.m., but a receipt from a Wendy's restaurant showed Ken had made a purchase there at 3:18 p.m. Given the distance between the home and the restaurant, Ken could not have been at the murder scene at the time the watch stopped. Watch experts testified for both sides at trial, and while the watch could have been altered, both experts testified there was no evidence it had been.
For years Ken, aided by various lawyers and the support of his children, has sought to prove his innocence. In the first case in Kansas using a new state law allowing additional DNA testing in murder cases, Ken obtained further testing on the original evidence, as well as a pair of glasses found at the scene. DNA on those glasses was from an unidentified female, but not Barbara or the daughters.
And the hairs, which at the time implicated Ken, proved also to be from an unidentified female — a fact that changes everything and should result in a new trial, says Beth Cateforis, one of Ken 's lawyers at the Project for Innocence.
But Ornburn, the prosecutor, disagrees, saying the hairs could have been picked up from the garage and don't belong to the killer.
In addition, Ornburn said that some of the additional DNA testing proved blood on both Ken's shoes and pants belonged to Barbara.
"The DNA evidence we have now is better than what we had at the first trial," Ornburn said, adding that if Ken's conviction is overturned, they'll retry the case.
The debate over the evidence, and whether it's strong enough for a new trial, was heard in the Kansas Supreme Court last year. The court sent the case back to Johnson County for a hearing, but Judge Franklin Davis ruled against granting a new trial. That decision is being appealed back to the higher court, a case expected to be heard in the fall.