This is an archival story that predates current editorial management.
This archival content was written, edited, and published prior to LAist's acquisition by its current owner, Southern California Public Radio ("SCPR"). Content, such as language choice and subject matter, in archival articles therefore may not align with SCPR's current editorial standards. To learn more about those standards and why we make this distinction, please click here.
Orange County D.A. Is Using YouTube To Convince The Public Of Man's Guilt
The Orange County District Attorney's office is arguing against a new trial for a man convicted of murder, and they're turning to a strange medium to do it: YouTube. According to the Orange County Register, the potential innocence of inmate Kenneth Clair is being hashed out online. Clair once sat on death row, but that was overturned in March of 2015. He is now serving a life sentence, but recanted testimonies and unidentified DNA evidence are chipping away at his conviction, at least in the eyes of the public. While the D.A.'s office remains firm, an online petition demanding his release has garnered over 160,000 signatures. Now, the D.A.'s office is hoping that by posting videos detailing the evidence that points to Clair as the killer, they can defeat the supposed misinformation.
The case is a bizarre one. Clair was convicted of murdering Linda Faye Rodgers, 25, in 1984, when Clair was 28 years old. Rodgers acted as a babysitter for Kai and Margaret Henriksen. She lived in the couple's Santa Ana home with their four children and her daughter.
On November 7, 1984, Clair broke into the Henriksen home and burgled it. On November 15, Rodgers was home alone with the children when the house was broken into once more. This time, the intruder beat, stabbed and strangled Rodgers. Her body was found on the bed in the master bedroom by the Henriksens when they returned home. Her hands had been tied behind her back, and she was naked from the waist down.
There was no physical evidence to connect Clair to the crime, but he seemed like a prime suspect. He was homeless and had been squatting in the house next door to the Henriksens', and authorities knew he'd already broken into it once. He was arrested for the burglary on November 11, and released on November 15, mere hours before the killing took place. What's more, prosecutors found a witness in Pauline Cody. Cody was romantically involved with Clair, and would testify that she saw him the night of the murder. According to court documents, she claimed that he had taken her to the Henriksens' neighborhood and asked her to wait next to a tree. After several minutes elapsed without any sign of Clair, she left. About an hour later, she said that Clair caught up to her. He had somehow procured speakers, jewelry, beer and a blanket. Margaret Henriksen would testify that those items were stolen from her home the night Rodgers was murdered. Cody told investigators that Clair told her that he had been busy beating up a woman.
Cody later worked as an undercover informant for the police, and prosecutors pointed to tape recordings where they assert he admitted to the killing. His statements, however, could be interpreted in multiple ways. At one point, he said he couldn't be placed at the scene of the murder due to lack of evidence. Was that him saying he'd get away with it because no one could prove he'd done it, or was that him saying there was literally no evidence because he hadn't been there?
Cody would later recant her testimony and accused prosecutors of manipulating her at a time when her mental state was foggy due to a recent accident, OC Weekly reports. She also admitted to having hostility towards Clair at the time, as she believed he had cheated on her.
Another odd thing was the testimony of one of the Henriksen children, Jerrod. Jerrod was five years old the night Rodgers was murdered. He told detectives that he had seen a white man commit the crime. He would later change his statement and tell detectives that the attacker had been a black man. However, Jerrod is now an adult, who says he changed his story because his father, a member of a whites-only biker club called the Nuggets, told him to. Jerrod also said that meth was being dealt out of his family's home, and that Rodgers had recently threatened to alert Child Protective Services. Rodgers' mother also stated that her daughter had called her and told her she wanted to move out of the Henriksens' because she did not feel safe there. Rodgers did not mention Clair, and made the phone call to her mother prior to the burglary.
In 2008, DNA found on Rodgers' body was tested, and was found to not match Clair's. However, prosecutors were adamant that this did not exonerate him. It is not currently known whose DNA was found on Rodgers' body.
Clair had a rough life. His mother stated in court that she was a single mother in Lousiana, and that Clair was her eldest child. He was abused by her brother, and it was days after a particularly violent incident that Clair committed the 1976 armed robbery. Clair did five years behind bars and, in 1983, moved to California at his biological father's request. According to his father's testimony, Clair lived with his father in Oakland until his father's new wife became jealous over the possibility that Clair's father and mother would reconnect. At that point, Clair moved in with his aunt in Santa Ana. When his aunt's husband became angry with him over what his aunt called a misunderstanding, he moved out with nowhere to go. Hence, his struggle with homelessness began.
Despite the oddities in the case, D.A. Tony Rackauckas said that they have no reason to believe that Clair is innocent. He expounds on this in the video below, which serves as an introduction to the case.
The subsequent video shows photos of Rodgers and features her daughter, Kristy. Kristy describes the night of the attack as the video shows gruesome crime scene photos of a blood-spattered home. Kristy slept through the attack, and did not witness it. Kirsty says she is "disgusted" by the campaign for Clair's release, and that it makes her feel like no one believes her mother's life mattered.
In the third video, which features numerous graphic crime scene photos, Deputy D.A. Dan Wagner says that certain items found in Clair's possession matched items stolen from the Henriksen residence, allegedly taken sometime between the first and second burglaries. Wagner also goes over Cody's statements, including her ability to describe distinctive pieces of stolen jewelry. (He refers to her by her last name at the time, Flores.)
These are only the first three videos of what the D.A.'s office says will be a 7-part series restating the evidence against Clair.