It’s a Kenneth Clair Christmas Document Dump! (Thanks, T-Rack…)

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Kenneth Clair, incarcerated since 1985 for a murder he did not commit, with generic Christmas background. We’re hoping he’ll finally be out to celebrate next Christmas with family and friends, for the first time in 32 years … but he’ll need all of our help!

A few days before the Nativity last week, private investigator C. J. Ford got a Yuletide surprise from our useless District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, and boy was it generous – literally THOUSANDS OF DOCUMENTS somehow related to the Kenneth Clair homicide case.

It’ll take CJ days of hard work to determine if the important evidence he had demanded in discovery are even in this mess.  This is an old trick, with a name –  “document dump” – when a politician, misbehaving corporation, prosecutor, or OTHER CROOK, unable to put off a legal demand for information any longer, instead attempts to drown their opponent in reams of useless info, and at the last possible minute.   

And last minute it is, as January 6 fast approaches – the date for the mighty Judge Goethals‘ hearing on whether to remove Rackauckas from the case.

Oh.  I can see from the blank look on your face (assuming you haven’t read any of Moxley’s invaluable series on this outrageous case, which you should) that you don’t know who this Kenneth Clair is.  So let’s walk through that.

The Cast of Characters

Let’s go back, way back, to November 15, 1984 (Reagan was President, at the top of the charts were “I Just Called to Say I Love You,”Carribean Queen,” and “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”) and let’s meet the characters, unpleasant and unfortunate, involved in this Santa Ana clusterfuck.

Let’s first meet the two tweekers who ran the household on West Wilshire: tow-truck driver and meth dealer Kai Henriksen, who belonged to a white-supremacist biker gang and had served time for murder for hire (let me repeat that in bold – served time for murder-for-hire), and his girlfriend Margaret “Peggy” Hessling, who was busily committing welfare fraud.  The jury that decided Clair’s fate was kept ignorant of all these facts and much more.  In between their frequent rowdy “biker parties” this fine couple led a chaotic household with three of Peggy’s children and a live-in babysitter (along with her child.)

Linda Faye Rogers, the live-in babysitter who should be remembered not as a murder victim but as a heroine for trying to protect the kids in her charge from the  menace of their mother and stepdad.  Many more important facts the jury was kept blissfully unaware of:  

  • Neighbors believed this 25-year old was also used as a sex slave by the tweeking couple;  
  • Kai had been insisting angrily that she owed them $300;  
  • She had repeatedly complained about their dealing drugs in front of the children and having unsavory characters around at all hours, and had threatened to turn in Kai and “Peggy” for their dealing and her welfare fraud;  
  • Screams and death threats had been heard by neighbors shortly before the murder;  
  • And she had called her mother a few days earlier and told her she didn’t feel safe with the Henriksens and feared she wouldn’t live to see 26.  Again, Kenneth Clair’s jury heard NONE OF THIS.

The convenient black homeless scapegoat, Kenny Clair.  Surviving a hellish Louisiana youth that Moxley recounts here, he came out to California to try to start a new life, but soon found himself homeless in Santa Ana, occasionally squatting in a vacant building next door to the Henriksens, taking drugs, and committing the odd burglary for which he’d sometimes get busted.  This included the Henriksens’ house four days before the murder, for which he was incarcerated until just a few hours before the murder.

The crime.  The jury knew – we all know – that on the night of November 15 Linda was bludgeoned, stabbed, and strangled to death by some vicious intruder, leaving blood spattered all over walls and ceiling.

Just a FEW things the jury didn’t know about that night:  

  • Kai had taken Peggy out on a tow-truck run – the first time this couple had ever done that;  
  • And the child witness who saw the whole thing say that the intruder/murderer was a WHITE man, with a tattoo’d arm, which he stuck right through a hole by the back door that he seemed very familiar with.

The child witness.  The only witness called to testify, 5-year old Jerrold Hessling – son of Peggy but not Kai – insisted that the killer was a white man.  Santa Ana police, eager from the start to hang the crime lazily on the local black homeless burglar – tested young Jerrold with  photos of various races, and determined to their frustration that he indeed knew the difference.  

Eventually with a WHOLE LOT of coaching, prosecutors, along with Jerrold’s “nigger”-hating stepdad, got the young man to say that maybe the killer was black after all.  But adult Jerrold, reached in recent years, insisted he was right from the beginning – Linda Faye Rogers was killed by a white man, and he had never seen Clair in his life.

The extorted girlfriend “witness.”  Kenneth Clair had, off and on, been hanging with a woman named Pauline Flores (left.) At the time of the crime they had recently had a big fight; she believed Kenneth had been cheating on her and admitted she wanted revenge.  The hapless woman also had a severe bicycle accident around the same time, necessitating brain surgery.  

Threatened with being charged as an accessory to the murder, she agreed to wear a wire and try to coax some sort of confession out of Clair.  All she got was him saying “NO,” he did not commit the murder, along with some more ambiguous statements like “They can’t prove a motherfucking thing, not unless you open your motherfucking mouth,” common street wisdom which the jury was persuaded amounted to a confession.  

Deceased now, Pauline later regretted her involvement and recanted most of her testimony, claiming her memory was all messed up at the time and she was used as a “sucker.”  But she did have an outstanding bench warrant dropped in return for her co-operation (yet another inconvenient fact concealed from the jury.)

The first, “win at all costs” prosecutor, Michael Jacobs, then-head of the OCDA’s homicide unit.  Moxley gives the lowdown on this prosecutor’s unscrupulous record here, leading up to even being fired later by DA Rackauckas for “dishonesty and insubordination,” if you can imagine that.  Throughout the case Jacobs never even considered the possibility of another suspect besides Clair, and he made sure to not let ANY evidence through to the jury that would shake their certitude in his guilt, even, as we’ll see, covering up exculpatory DNA testing.

Add in Clair’s useless and overworked public defenders, who rarely communicated with him, put little time into the case, and seemed to Clair to “believe he was guilty,” and you ended up, in 1986, with a death sentence against the hapless, innocent, homeless junkie.

Enter CJ Ford.

A couple of decades of complete despair on Clair’s part ended a decade ago when friends of his hired crack Anaheim private investigator C. J. Ford.  CJ couldn’t believe how many glaring problems the government’s case had, and immediately started in to discovering even more.

Most dramatic was the DNA bombshell.  After being told for years (as was the jury) that there was no DNA or fingerprint evidence, CJ took to a regimen of daily harassing the Santa Ana Police’s evidence people.   When they finally asked him in exasperation, “Why do you keep coming here day after day?  There’s no evidence left in this case!” he responded, “I’m going to keep coming back until I get it, and now I’m going to go to the PRESS!”  Bingo – that was the ticket.  “Please don’t do that,” the keepers of SAPD evidence pleaded, and on the next day they miraculously found all the Kenneth Clair evidence, over there in a corner, supposed casualty of some office move.  

And there was DNA saved off the victim’s body!  And as you may have heard, the DNA was NOT KENNETH CLAIR’S!  And the District Attorney’s story suddenly became, “Oh yeah, we knew that all along but it was irrelevant because of this and that bullshit reason.”  And the DA (by this point, the national joke Tony Rackauckas) admits they know whose DNA it is, but they refuse to say.

Over the years CJ (a former bounty hunter) has managed to track down nine of the original jurors, ALL OF WHOM have told him when presented with all the evidence that had been hidden from them, that they would have voted Kenneth not guilty if they knew then what they know now.

Hey you know what, let’s take a little break from all this reading and writing, and watch Reason TV‘s fine series of videos on the case:

So, what have we not covered yet?  A couple years ago (March 2015) the Ninth Circuit quietly granted Kenneth a partial, maybe even Pyrrhic victory, taking him off death row but not granting him the NEW TRIAL that he needs and deserves, but only RE-SENTENCING to life without parole.   The flip side is, now that he’s not facing the death penalty, the penniless prisoner no longer gets free defense counsel (not that that had ever been a whole lot of help.)  

He’s being offered what I call “poison parole.”  The idea of getting out on parole might sound tempting, but he knows full well that would mean admitting guilt and expressing remorse, which he steadfastly refuses to do – there’s no turning back from that, and all evidence would be destroyed if he did.  And they STILL probably wouldn’t let him out for years or decades more.  Kinda like this:

And recently, he was moved off of death row back to the Central Jail in Santa Ana, where you could write or visit him now:

The Men’s Central Jail
Inmate Booking Number: 2925186
550 N Flower St.
Santa Ana, CA 92703

Meanwhile CJ started a petition drive on Change.Org, which is well on its way to 200,000 signatures, bringing great public interest to the case, and great embarrassment to Rackauckas.  But will it help get the DNA match released, will it help get Kenny a new trial, and then help fund a decent lawyer at last?  We hope so.

Kenneth and CJ, a while back.

CJ and Kenneth take a lot of pride in being the first people to force a discovery order on Rackaucakas, based on the new AB 1909, under which our good-as-no-DA could conceivably be charged with a felony for not complying.  Lawyer after lawyer has failed to do this  – and now it’s been done by two guys with such modest educations as well, operating on stubbornness and righteousness.

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Why does the whole story sound familiar?  Why is it so hard for prosecutors and DA’s to ever admit they made a mistake?  How can insisting on their own infallibility be more important to them than justice and people’s lives?  It seems to be something in their blood…

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Finally excuse me while I scold California voters, those supposed progressives.  In last November’s election, we had a chance to get rid of our death penalty – that almost passed but not quite.  But meanwhile there was another measure – grotesquely pimped for by Rackauckas and our equally lawless and dishonest Sheriff Sandra Hutchens – ACCELERATING the death penalty, removing a lot of the accused’s protections from wrongful execution… and that passed pretty easily, by 5%.  So, if it were up to a good 49%-50% of you California voters (allowing for stupidity and confusion in the mix there) another innocent guy like Kenneth Clair would be dead by now.  This is why California needs to have its head forced down into stories like this, like a thug would do to someone in a toilet.

Now let’s check in with CJ again…

While I was writing the above, the private investigator had time to look through the thousands-of-pages document dump described at the top, and determined it to be, as the Russian spy/diplomat said to Frances McDormand in Burn After Reading, “dreck.”  The mighty Judge Goethals had ordered T-Rack to turn over to CJ,
“all briefs and documents … related to this case … including but NOT limited to briefs, police reports, physical evidence, photos, diagrams, slides, composites, videotapes, crime scene exhibits …” as well as “scientific evidence,” thoroughly defined here to include the DNA and tests.  Instead T-Rack handed over a tall stack of irrelevant publicly-available documents like arrest reports.

And SO.  Judge Goethals will be hearing TWO MORE motions from Kenneth and CJ:  a motion to hold T-Rack in contempt of court, AND a motion for a new trial in Superior Court.  I don’t know about you, but I’ll be there Friday at 8:30 AM in room C45, rooting for truth and justice!


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist in Orange County. Performs regularly with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem, and at regular concerts at the Huntington Beach Central Library.