The Commonwealth of Virginia v.
Linda Darline Keene
By Rhonda Riglesberger and a special team of editors as follows:
Clara A. T. Boggs
Barbara J. McAtlin
On July 14, 1995, an unknown assailant crept into 83-year-old Thelma
Frasher's house and cruelly bludgeoned her to death. Ten months later, in May
of 1996, the police arrested 47-year-old Linda Keene, Thelma's housekeeper,
aide and companion and accused her of first-degree murder.
Mrs. Keene has consistently proclaimed her innocence. Her friends and family
constantly ask how this could have happened to such a wonderful and loving
person. In their minds Linda Keene remains an outstanding, law-abiding
citizen. They describe her as an exceptionally good person who has befriended
almost everyone she has ever met.
When word leaked out to the media that the police suspected Linda Keene of
committing the murder, the press crucified her. They published stories and
made up speculations on why they thought Linda did the crime and pronounced
her guilty to the citizens of Waynesboro, Virginia before she was indicted.
The bad publicity caused most of the citizens living in the small cliquy
Waynesboro community to gossip and make accusations until the prejudice grew
against her. Their actions soon pressured the authorities to arrest her. The
police centered the investigation on Linda Keene, and for the next ten months
hounded Mrs. Keene and her husband. Police impounded her car, searched her
home, took her clothing and shoes, and still did not find any physical
evidence against her.
With only a small pool of news-biased and prejudiced citizens from which to
select a jury, Mrs. Keene had a greatly diminished chance to prove her
innocence. Her transcripts state that she did not face a jury of her own
peers, but instead faced a jury mainly comprised of the prosecuting
In 1992, Linda and Ray had moved into the tightly knit community of
Waynesboro. Because of this, the Keenes felt that the people always
considered them outsiders. They did not belong to the elite country club in
Waynesboro and Ray Keene did not play golf or personally know Prosecuting
Attorney W. Charles Poland socially. W. Charles Poland served on the board of
It is a matter of record that three Keene jurors admitted they belonged to
the same country club as Poland, the Commonwealth's prosecutor. Two jurors
admitted knowing him socially through golf and a third admitted to belonging
to the same country club, but denied knowing him. A fourth juror said that
Mr. Poland did a real estate closing for him a year before trial. All but two
of Mrs. Keene's jurors admitted reading about and having some general
knowledge about the case.
Linda Keene begged her attorney to ask for a change of venue because she did
not feel she would receive a fair trial in Waynesboro. Her attorney, Scott
Goodman, refused to ask for one because he did not think one would be granted.
Linda Keene's family paid the law offices of Brenner, Dohnal, Evans & Yoffy,
P.C., in Richmond, Virginia for an independent evaluation of Linda's jury.
(Attorney Dohnal's notes were made from the transcripts of the Linda Keene
Murder Trial Day I, Pages 41-61.)
Dohnal states: "This case is quite disturbing for a number of reasons. In the
instant matter several jurors exhibited questionable factors that might have
supported a strike for cause. The most noteworthy of these jurors is Juror
number six. First, he knew one of the Commonwealth's witnesses. Also, he was
an acquaintance of the prosecuting attorney. Additionally he was exposed to
press coverage about the case. And lastly, he noted a comment made by his
family member associated with the victim."
Dohnal further states: "Each of these elements individually should prompt
some concern, but combined they are somewhat alarming. It could be argued
that the jury gave more weight or credibility to the commonwealth witness'
testimony simply by virtue of their relationship of his knowledge of that
person. Juror number six further indicated that his daughter-in-law made a
comment about the victim with whom she was acquainted. That knowledge coupled
with his relationship with the prosecuting attorney could arguably amount to
the juror's inability to be impartial."
Virginia law regarding Jury Prejudice: If there be a reasonable doubt whether
the juror [is prejudiced], that doubt is sufficient to ensure his exclusion.
It is not only important that justice should be impartially administered, but
it should also flow through channels as free from suspicion as possible.
Wright v. Commonwealth, 73 Va. 941, 943 (1979).
Mr. Dohnal's notes also state that the most honorable Judge Rudolph
Bumgardner III had the power to strike this juror if in his opinion he
determined the juror felt any prejudice towards the defendant. Mr. Dohnal's
letter indicates that the judge may have erred by not striking juror number
Despite overwhelming evidence that suggests jury prejudice, Linda Keene
cannot hope to win an appeal based on these facts as Dohnal further
clarifies, "While an argument in reference to Juror number six could be
advanced, the appellate courts give a great deal of latitude to the trial
courts' assessment of venireman. Because the trial judge has the opportunity
to observe and evaluate the apparent sincerity, consciousness, intelligence,
and demeanor of prospective jurors the disposition of a challenge for cause
rests soundly within judicial discretion which will not be disturbed on
appeal absent manifest error." Barker v. Commonwealth, 230 Va. 370, 375, 337,
S.E. 2d 729, 733 (1985).
The authorities came to Mrs. Keene's house the day of the murder and
questioned her. At that time Linda believed Thelma had died of natural
causes. It was not until approximately one week after Thelma's death when the
Police asked her to come to the station for questioning that she discovered
that Thelma had been murdered. When police asked her to voluntarily cooperate
with them, Linda truthfully complied. Linda's version of the two days in
question has remained truthful from her first account to the last. Eyewitness
testimonies during Linda's murder trial eventually verified that Linda told
the authorities the truth when they questioned her.
The police read the honest and naive Linda her rights, then fingerprinted and
questioned her for about five hours with no attorney present. Linda had never
been in trouble with the law. She knew she was innocent and believed in the
justice system with all her heart. She honestly thought the police would
discover the truth on their own.
This is Linda Keene's story:
Linda went to work for Thelma Frasher, who lived in Waynesboro, Virginia, in
April or May of 1992. Ms. Frasher agreed to pay Linda the sum of thirty-five
dollars every two weeks for approximately six hours of work. Their
relationship remained on strict business terms for a period of two years.
About a year before the murder the dynamics of their relationship changed
when Ms. Frasher fell and injured her back. She required back surgery and
physical therapy and needed more and more help with everyday life. Linda
willingly offered to help Thelma at no additional charge.
As Thelma's dependency on Linda grew, their friendship evolved into a
mother-daughter type of relationship. Linda felt she could tell Thelma
anything and witnesses testified that Thelma felt the same way about her.
Thelma often mentioned their close relationship to her niece and closest
friend, Louise Hassett. Several witnesses testified that Thelma repeatedly
told her friends and family that she did not know what she would do without
Sometime around January 1995 Linda began to have financial problems. Linda
and Ray had recently bought a newer home in Fishersville, Virginia. There
they faced the associated costs of furnishing their house, landscaping,
tools, new furniture, and more. Linda also had a few large phone bills. Her
parents live in Arkansas and Linda called them almost daily. She knew Ray
liked to have a nest egg just in case of an emergency and the pair often
argued about her excessive phone bills, other money owed, and about how much
they should help her daughter. That's when Linda realized she needed to get a
full time job.
Linda broke into tears when she told Thelma that going to work would be the
only way out of her financial mess. Thelma had grown dependent on Linda's aid
and offered to lend her some money. Linda reluctantly agreed but only with
the understanding it was a loan and would be paid back.
Linda's financial situation turned even bleaker, requiring her to ask for
additional loans. Three checks were written to Linda: one on March 24, 1995
for $2000, another on April 24, 1995 for $9000 and a final one on June 24,
1995 for $6000. Thelma fell in March 1995 and broke her writing hand.
Thereafter Linda helped Thelma write her bills, a task that included signing
These signed checks were used as the motive for the murder. The prosecutor,
W. Charles Poland, claimed Linda had stolen a large sum of money from Thelma
and had killed her to prevent her from seeing the bank statements. The
supposed motive had a few problems. While Linda was being questioned, she
told police of an emergency fund of $3100 Thelma had in the house. If Linda
killed Thelma over money, it is likely she would also have helped herself to
this untraceable pile of cash. Louise Hassett, a good friend of Thelma, did
more damage to the motive. In a sworn deposition, she testified to advising
Thelma not to lend Linda any money. This seems to be substantial proof that
the money was a loan. Unfortunately, Ms. Hassett was in deteriorating health
and was excluded from testifying. Linda's attorney failed to file the
necessary briefs that would have allowed Ms. Hassett's deposition to be read
to the jury. Her deposition coupled with the testimony of Thelma's son and
her niece, who both testified to advising Thelma not to lend Linda money,
would have strengthened Linda's contention that the money was a loan.
The manager of Thelma's bank testified that he had seen Thelma at the bank in
late April or May and they had discussed her money market account, the same
account two of the checks were drawn against. His testimony indicated Thelma
kept a close eye on her accounts and would have been aware if something was
amiss. All these elements together appear to support Linda's claim that the
money was a loan.
Thelma Frasher's Final Hours
On July 13, 1995 Linda Keene drove Thelma Frasher to Bradley's Market. After
buying their groceries, Thelma fell in the store's gravel parking lot. A
witness testified Thelma landed hard on her knees and hit her head on the
bumper of a car. He recalled this happened between 10 and 11 a.m.
It took three people to help the approximately 200 pound Thelma into Linda's
car. Fearing Thelma may have re-injured her back, Linda drove her home where
she massaged Thelma's neck, back and shoulders. Linda heard the mail carrier
coming and stepped out to get the mail. She told the carrier about Thelma's
fall. Linda then went to get lunch for Thelma and herself.
Around 4 p.m., Linda invited Thelma over for dinner. When they arrived at
Linda's house, Linda settled Thelma into a recliner to watch television while
Linda walked the dogs. They ate dinner around 6 p.m. and Linda drove Thelma
home around 7:30 p.m. Linda helped Thelma into her nightgown, tidied up the
bedroom and collected her own groceries before leaving Thelma for the night.
The events of July 13, 1995 occupied a large portion of the prosecutor's
case. W. Charles Poland advanced the Commonwealth's case by claiming the only
reason Linda met the mail carrier was to steal Thelma's bank statement. In
reality, the mail carrier couldn't remember if he handed Linda any mail that
day. He couldn't even recall if this happened on the 13th or the 14th of
July. The other prosecution witnesses to the events of July 13, 1995 also
proved to be unreliable. One claimed Linda wasn't with Thelma when she fell.
Others got the time wrong and couldn't remember the correct color of Linda's
car. Eventually Linda's version of events was verified before the more
precise recollections of other witnesses.
July 14, 1995 -- The Day Thelma Frasher Died
Sometime in the early morning hours, Thelma Frasher's house was illegally
entered and she was struck three to four times in the head with the blunt
edge of a metal object.
Linda testified that on the morning of July 14, 1995, she awoke, took a
shower, went downstairs and greeted her husband still wearing her robe and
slippers. Linda talked with her husband until he left for work at about 6:50
Linda planned a busy day but decided to make a quick stop at Thelma's and
have a cup of coffee with her before going on to clean another client's house.
Linda testified that she pulled into Thelma's driveway around 7:40 a.m. She
tried the front door and found it locked. Linda went around to the back of
the house to see if the air conditioner was on as Thelma had a habit of
turning on the air conditioner as soon as she awoke. Discovering it was still
off, she glanced into Thelma's window and saw that her recliner was empty.
Assuming Thelma was still sleeping, Linda left, arriving at Wilda Robertson's
house (her other client) at about 8:00 a.m. (Day II Court Transcripts Linda
Keene Trial pp. 121-124.)
(This timeline is also derived from the testimony of Ray Keene, Day II Court
Transcripts Linda Keene Trial pp. 69-70.) Ray Keene's boss testified for the
defense and produced documentation to prove that Ray signed onto his computer
at 7:25 a.m. Allowing for Ray's regular thirty-five minute commute, this
confirms that Ray left his home at approximately 6:50 a.m. on the morning in
question, as he testified.
Wilda Robertson was terminally ill at the time but before she died she gave a
sworn deposition stating that Linda arrived at her home at approximately 8:00
a.m. on the morning of July 14, 1995. She also testified that Linda did not
have any bloodstains on her clothes and that she acted in a normal manner.
Wilda died before the trial date and because Linda's attorney neglected to
file the proper briefs in advance of Linda's trial, Wilda's deposition was
discounted by the court as hearsay and not admitted into evidence. The jury
never had a chance to hear this second crucial piece of evidence.
After leaving Wilda's house, Linda says she went to have her hair cut, went
to the Waynesboro Nursery to pick up some patio flowers for her deck and then
went to Coffey's garage to check on some tires for Ray's car. From there she
took the lawn mower blades over to Ozyjowski's Farm and Garden to get them
sharpened as her husband had asked. When the owner told Linda it would only
take about twenty minutes, Linda decided to wait. Returning home with the
sharpened blades, Linda proceeded to clean her house for a party she planned
to hold for her daughter the following day.
That afternoon Linda received a phone call from V. F., Thelma Frasher's son.
He said he tried calling his mother around 8:00 a.m. that morning. Linda
offered to go over and check on Thelma for him but he declined her offer.
Instead (as he said on the witness stand), he made no further attempts to
call his mother that afternoon.
V. F. testified that he decided to call Bill Folsom, Thelma's neighbor and
Lifeline partner, at about 5:35 p.m. to ask him to check on his mother. From
Mr. Folsom, he learned his mother was deceased (Day II Linda Keene Court
Because of Thelma's frequent falls and bad health, Bill Folsom, a long-time
neighbor and friend, agreed to be her Lifeline partner. Thelma wore a buzzer
around her neck that would call Bill Folsom to her side if she needed him. At
V. F.'s urging Bill Folsom entered Thelma's home, discovered Thelma's body
and phoned the authorities.
V. F. said for the record that he usually called his mother on Sunday
evenings and that he had not visited his mother since she had fallen and
broken her ankle in March of 1995.
The prosecuting attorney, W. Charles Poland
produced a wicked looking thirty-inch lawn mower blade which in turn fooled
into believing it was the actual murder weapon.
He did not produce the blade until after the
medical examiner took the witness stand. The blade was never marked as an
exhibit. Linda's attorney was not previously advised of its existence. The
facts are that it was not Linda and Ray's lawn mower blade and it came from
an unknown source. Linda's counsel failed to properly represent Linda by not
verbally objecting to the use of this foreign blade during her murder trial.
Ray Keene still mows his lawn with the same lawn mower blades that the
prosecution alleges Linda Keene used to kill Thelma Frasher. According to
Linda and Ray, their actual lawn mower blades were never confiscated for
forensic testing. They believe this is because their actual lawn mower blades
are approximately sixteen inches long and extremely heavy and bulky. Linda
could barely lift them on her own. This would not have impressed the jury as
much as the actual blade the prosecuting attorney produced at her trial.
Testimony of David W. Oxley M.D., Medical Examiner. (Day I Linda Keene Court
Transcripts pp.163-165.) Dr. Oxley said that the cause of death was "A blunt
trauma to the head -- blows to the head -- which left the left skull fracture
and subdural and subarachnoid hemorrhage. That's a hemorrhage in the brain
When Prosecutor Poland asked the witness if he could specifically determine
what instrument was used to cause those injuries, he answered "Specifically
No. It would have to have been an instrument with edges and corners."
Poland asked the witness if he could give some examples of what the murder
weapon might be. The witness answered "a square piece of wood, a square piece
of pipe, a metal -- a piece of metal with angles and corners."
Poland then produced a lawn mower blade and asked "Based on reasonable
certainty, can you tell us whether or not this instrument, or one like it,
could have caused that injury?"
Dr Oxley replied: "May I see it please?" He examined it and said "It could
have -- this or one like it. Specifically, more likely with the blunt side of
the blade than with the sharp side." (Pg. 171.)
When Scott Goodman, Linda's attorney, cross-examined the witness he asked, Q.
"There is hundreds, if not thousands, of things that could have caused this
injury it's fair to say; correct? Anything that's a hard metal object?" A.
"That's correct!" (Pg. 172.)
The owner of Ozyjowski's Farm and Garden testified for the defense. Mr.
Ozyjowski said he had been in business for ten years and at approximately
1:00 p.m. on July 14, 1995, he had sharpened the lawn mower blades belonging
to the defendant, Linda Keene. (Day II, Linda Keene Court Transcripts, pg.
Q. "Did you notice any blood on those blades?" A. "I did not." Q. "Did you
see any hair on it?" A. "No I did not." Q. "Any hair on those blades? Was
there still grass, in fact on those blades?" A. "There was grass, in fact
because we scraped the grass off the blades in order to grind and balance
Throughout Linda's trial not one expert testified to ever seeing chunks of
grass or grass clippings at the murder scene. None of the medical examiners
testified to seeing grass clippings, or chunks of grass in any of Thelma's
wounds. No one bothered to question the prosecutor's allegations, or even
sought an expert opinion to confirm whether Thelma's wounds were consistent
with the type of blades the Keene family owns. If they had bothered to check,
they would have discovered the inconsistencies in the prosecutor's
allegations, and could have examined them and compared his false allegations
to the actual facts in question.
(The State of Virginia denied one of Mrs. Keene's appeals on the grounds that
Mrs. Keene had clearly bashed in Mrs. Frasher's skull with a lawn mower
blade. Their decision can be located at:
Further complications develop: The coroner testified that he had forgotten
his liver thermometer; and therefore, could only approximate (at the murder
scene) that Thelma had been dead for at least twelve hours. He testified that
the body was cold when he arrived and the temperature outside was 93 degrees
when he got there. He also said that the air conditioning unit was turned off
in the house. He went on to say, "And as I say, it's very difficult to tell
exactly how long somebody has been down-without getting a liver temperature.
And I did not have a thermometer at the time. So I can just say that it had
been a number of hours. And my estimate would be greater than 12 hours." (In
his opinion, this meant prior to 6:30 a.m. when the prosecutor alleged that
the murder took place.) The coroner also said, "That's just an estimate. It
doesn't mean that that's what it was."
Faulty eyewitness testimony reared up to further confuse and complicate Mrs.
Keene's case. The prosecution depended heavily on two eyewitnesses, who later
testified that Linda was at Mrs. Frasher's house at 6:40 a.m. the morning of
the murder. Their faulty testimonies were particularly damaging to Linda's
case because it helped authenticate the prosecutor's made up allegation that
the murder was committed between 6:00 and 8:00 a.m. The fact is that the
correct time of the murder was not ever really established. Mr. and Mrs.
Briggs, a couple, gave conflicting statements on three different occasions.
Records show that they told one story during the original investigation, then
another at Linda's preliminary trial and changed their stories again at
Linda's murder trial.
In his original statement to Officer Stephens during the original
investigation, Mr. Briggs said he saw Linda's car pull out of the driveway at
approximately 7:45 in the morning. He did not see Linda carrying a white
trash bag. He said he saw her coming from behind the house while he was
mowing his lawn. This is consistent with what Linda says happened.
Officer Stephenson's notes indicate that Mrs. Briggs told him she had seen
Linda Keene once coming from the back of the house carrying a white trash bag
on July 14, 1995. Mrs. Briggs also told him she had seen Linda Keene carry
white bags out of Ms. Frasher's house on several occasions. Linda says she
carried a rather large beige colored purse on the morning in question. There
is a long distance between Mrs. Briggs' kitchen windows from where Mrs. Keene
parked her car on the morning in question. Some questions arose during Mrs.
Keene's trial as to whether Mrs. Briggs could have distinguished whether
Linda carried a purse or a bag on the morning in question. During Mrs.
Keene's trial this witness testified that she could not remember what day she
had actually seen Mrs. Keene.
It took the jury six hours to convict Linda Keene of this heinous crime.
Linda's friends and family feel that three of the Keene jurors appeared to
have a difficult time with Linda's conviction. They watched the jurors wince
while the guilty verdict was read and, by doing so, gave those who support
Linda's claims of innocence the idea that they were not happy with the
verdict. Mrs. Keene's transcripts reveal that the judge never instructed the
jury they had the right to vote as their consciences may have dictated. Other
mitigating factors that may have made the jury more inclined to retire for
the evening is that a freak snowstorm blew through that evening, and
Virginians are not used to driving in the snow. Linda's friends and family
stood by and helplessly watched the jury grow more frightened and concerned
as the hour grew later.
Who really killed Thelma Frasher?
Linda's friends and family believe that the person who had the most to gain
by Thelma's death was a gentleman with the initials, V. F., who inherited
Thelma's residence and at least half of Thelma's estate valued at
approximately $750,000.00. He had lost his
job two years before the murder and worked at a part time low paying job. He
was dependent on financial supplements from Thelma to keep his family going.
His wife, J., worked full time to provide the primary support for his family.
Before Thelma died, she confided in Linda that V. was very angry that she had
lent her so much money. He had begun to question several of Thelma's recent
transactions and had grilled her on the disposition of a $25,000.00 CD. He
told Thelma that he thought Linda was depleting his inheritance.
Seven weeks before the murder V's wife learned she would be losing her job. V
had asked Thelma if they could move in with her because he feared they could
no longer afford their home. Thelma confided this to Linda, saying that she
had denied his request because she didn't like V's, wife. According to Linda,
V's wife lost her job about three weeks before the murder.
On July 15, 1995, V and his wife entered Thelma's home where they proceeded
to make a pot of coffee. The police arrived shortly afterwards and ordered
them to leave because they had not completed the murder investigation. Both V
and his wife told the police they had not entered Thelma's bedroom at all
while they were alone and unsupervised in the house. The truth is that the
couple had plenty of time to contaminate the murder scene because one officer
testified that the couple had been in the house for some time before the
police arrived that morning.
Ray Keene hired a private investigator, to investigate V. F. and he reported
back that he could find no evidence that the Waynesboro Police Department had
bothered to investigate him.
Linda Keene repeatedly tried to appeal her conviction, but the Commonwealth
of Virginia has denied her due process. She cries out her innocence to anyone
who will listen: "I was a good friend and caretaker to Thelma Frasher. As
such, I went beyond the normal call of a housekeeper and shared a lot of time
with her. I loved her dearly. She trusted me to do her check writing. I
borrowed money from her with her willing consent. My visit to her home on
July 14, 1995, was made out of concern and caring for my friend. I did not
murder Thelma Frasher."
The Court of Appeals in Virginia overturned another appeal of Mrs. Keene's
based on the fact that they questioned the relevancy of the depositions of
Mrs. Hassett and Mrs. Robertson. They said this evidence should have been
introduced at the lower court level and is therefore irrelevant in the
appeals process. As mentioned before, it was not introduced because Mrs.
Keene's attorney forgot to file the necessary briefs prior to trial. Mrs.
Keene feels that the statements the two women made would prove she had a
loving and caring relationship with Thelma Frasher. Their decision can be
located at http://www.1weekly.com/va/opin/coa/0089973.htm.
Linda Keene is currently confined at the Fluvanna Correctional Institute for
women in Troy Virginia. There both the inmates and guards continually ask
her, "Why are you in here?" They cannot believe that someone as nice and
personable as Mrs. Keene could be a convicted murderer. Linda's father died
recently and the Correctional Center would not allow her to attend his
funeral. Linda has also developed a blockage in her heart and if they cannot
open the artery with medication, they will have to operate. She plans to
petition the Governor of Virginia for clemency. Meanwhile, the State of
Virginia continues to deny her the justice she rightfully deserves.
Rhonda Riglesberger JD Staff
Sources: Preliminary Hearing Transcripts-Linda Keene (August 16, 1996.) Linda
Keen Murder Trial Transcripts, Day's one and two, (December 17 & 18, 1996)
Linda Keene's latest request to the appeals panel, (June 24, 1999) Court of
Appeals denial regarding the appeal of Linda Keene, (July 14, 1997) Review of
Linda Keene's conviction by Attorney Dohnal (October 1, 1998)
Contact Linda Keene:
Ms. Linda D. Keene
Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women
P.O. Box 1000
Troy, Virginia 22974
© Justice Denied