Kansas attorney can’t claim immunity in wrongful conviction case, court says

TOPEKA, Kan. — A federal appeals court has ruled that a former Kansas county prosecutor doesn’t have absolute immunity in lawsuits filed by a man who spent nearly 16 years in prison for a murder his brother later confessed to committing in a suicide note.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Aug. 16 upheld a lower court ruling in a lawsuit filed by Floyd Bledsoe against former Jefferson County prosecutor Jim Vanderbilt and others, who Bledsoe claims fabricated evidence and conspired to convict him in the 1999 rape and murder of 14-year-old Camille Arfmann near Oskaloosa, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported.

Bledsoe was released from prison in 2015 after his brother, Tom, killed himself and said in a note that he had killed the girl. Bledsoe received a $1 million settlement in May from the state of Kansas for his wrongful conviction and incarceration.

Bledsoe filed a federal lawsuit alleging his constitutional rights were violated by Jefferson County officials, including Vanderbilt.

“We affirm the district court’s decision that defendant Vanderbilt does not enjoy absolute immunity from suit for allegedly fabricating evidence against plaintiff during the preliminary investigation of C.A.’s (Camille Arfmann) murder,” the appellate court said.

Arfmann was kidnapped and shot to death in rural Jefferson County in November 1999. Tom Bledsoe was originally charged with murder after he confessed led authorities to the body. But shortly afterward, those charges were dropped and Floyd Bledsoe was arrested. He was convicted in 2000 of murder, kidnapping and indecent liberties with a child and sentenced to life in prison.

Floyd Bledsoe was freed in 2015 after DNA testing showed evidence implicated his brother in the case. Tom Bledsoe killed himself and left several notes confessing to the crimes, including a note that said, in part, “I sent an innocent man to prison. The Jefferson County police and county attorney Jim Vanderbilt made me do it.”

Vanderbilt’s law license was suspended in 2005 and again in 2011 for violations in other cases. It has not been reinstated. His attorney, Patric Linden, said Vanderbilt did not want to comment because the case is still in litigation.

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