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The Commonwealth of Virginia v.
Linda Darline Keene

Linda Keen

By Rhonda Riglesberger and a special team of editors as follows:

Phyllis Lincoln

Peter Centrocelli

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 attorney's peers.

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 directors there.

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 six.

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 Linda.

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 the checks.

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 a.m.

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 Transcripts pg.41).

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 the jury 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 substance."

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. 158.)

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 them."

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: http://www.courts.state.va.us/txtops/0089973.txt)

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

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