WSJ INVESTIGATIONS SUMMARY
The Wall Street Journal
April 18, 1996
The Lonely Crusade of Linda Ives
By MICAH MORRISON
ALEXANDER, Ark. — Linda Ives appears to be a simple housewife — born in 1949, graduated from Little Rock’s McClellan High School, and married to Larry Ives, an engineer on the Union Pacific railroad. But her tale is one of the most Byzantine in all Arkansas, involving the murder of her son and his friend, allegations of air-dropped drugs connected to the Mena, Ark., airport, a series of aborted investigations and, she believes, cover-ups by local, state and federal investigators.
The case started nine years ago, when Bill Clinton was governor of Arkansas. Today, with Mr. Clinton in the White House, it is still rattling through the state, with one of the principal figures making bizarre headlines in the local press as recently as the last few weeks. Above all, the “train deaths” case opens a window into the seamy world of Arkansas drugs.
The bare facts of the case are these: At 4:25 a.m. on Aug. 23, 1987, a northbound Union Pacific train ran over two teenagers, Kevin Ives and Don Henry, as they lay side by side, motionless on the tracks. Arkansas State Medical Examiner Fahmy Malak quickly ruled the deaths “accidental,” saying the boys were “unconscious and in deep sleep” due to smoking marijuana. “We didn’t know anything about marijuana at the time,” Mrs. Ives says. But when medical experts found the explanation implausible, “we really began asking questions.” The families held a press conference challenging the ruling, which received wide publicity in Arkansas.
This in turn provoked an investigation by a local grand jury in Saline County, a largely rural area between Little Rock and Hot Springs. Ultimately the bodies were exhumed and another autopsy was performed by outside pathologists. They found that Don Henry had been stabbed in the back, and that Kevin Ives had been beaten with a rifle butt. In grand jury testimony, lead pathologist Joseph Burton of Atlanta said that the boys “were either incapacitated, knocked unconscious, possibly even killed, their bodies placed on the tracks and the train overran their bodies.” In September 1988, the grand jury issued a report stating, “Our conclusions are that the case is definitely a homicide.”
The teenagers told their parents they were going out for a night of deer hunting by spotlight. From the beginning allegations of a drug connection haunted the case. One police report filed seven months after the deaths reads, “Confidential Informant states that she has been told that the area the two boys died in is a drop zone for dope.” The case soon became a local cause celebre. A Republican candidate for sheriff in heavily Democratic Saline county held a press conference by the railroad tracks where the two teenagers died, promised to crack down on “drug lords” operating in the area, and won an upset victory.
On taking office, however, the new sheriff passed the investigation along to Chuck Banks, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas during the Bush administration. Mr. Banks’s office was probing allegations of drug-related corruption among Saline County officials. At the same time, another investigation was opened by Jean Duffey, a deputy prosecutor heading a newly created drug task force for the state’s Seventh Judicial District. Drawing on interviews with area residents and informants, the task force developed a theory that the area was used as a site for drug drops by plane. “We had witnesses telling us about low-flying aircraft and informants testifying about drug pick-ups,” Ms. Duffey recalled recently.
Ms. Duffey also says that her supervisor, outgoing Prosecuting Attorney Gary Arnold, gave her a strange order upon her new appointment. “He told me, ‘You are not to use the drug task force to investigate any public officials.’ At the time, I assumed it was because of the U.S. attorney’s investigation. But as soon as my undercover agents hit the streets, they began linking public officials to drug dealing. So I began funneling that information to the U.S. attorney’s office.”
Eight months after taking the post of drug task force coordinator, Ms. Duffey was fired amid allegations of financial mismanagement, child abuse and official improprieties. The Arkansas State Police subsequently found no basis on which to charge her with mismanagement of task force funds and state welfare authorities cleared her of the abuse allegation. Ms. Duffey next received a subpoena that apparently would have forced her to reveal the identity of her informants — to some of the very people being probed for drug corruption, she claims. She chose to ignore the subpoena, she says, “rather than showing up in court and refusing to testify and being jailed for contempt. I feared for my safety in an Arkansas jail. Then the judge issued a felony arrest warrant — ‘failure to appear’ usually is a low-level misdemeanor — and told the newspapers I was a fugitive. That’s when I left the state.”
Ms. Duffey attributes the “smear campaign” and subpoena that forced her from the state to Dan Harmon, who had won the Democratic nomination for prosecuting attorney for the Seventh Judicial District. While he did not take office until January 1991, he had considerable influence in 1990 because the Democratic nomination insured he would eventually gain the post. Interviewed this week, Mr. Harmon says that Ms. Duffey is a “crackpot” and that he was “planning to replace her when all hell broke loose.”
Ms. Duffey says that matters were a great deal more serious than a personal dispute between her and Mr. Harmon: “My agents were turning up information linking Mr. Harmon to drugs, that’s what the real problem was.” Mr. Harmon also was identified in leaked investigative documents as a “target” in the 1989-1991 U.S. attorney’s drug-corruption probe, and Ms. Duffey says the reason she did not respond to Mr. Harmon’s attacks was that the U.S. attorney’s office was assuring her that his indictment was imminent. But in November 1990 the case supervisor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Govar, was removed from the investigation and U.S. Attorney Banks took charge.
In June 1991, Mr. Banks announced that the investigation was over. “There’s not going to be any pressing of indictment against Mr. Harmon or any other public official,” he said. “We found no evidence of any drug-related misconduct by public officials.” Mr. Banks added that there would be no arrests in connection with the deaths of Kevin Ives and Don Henry.
Bill Clinton’s gubernatorial administration assumed a role in the Ives and Henry case shortly after Dr. Malak’s marijuana-induced accidental death ruling. Dr. Malak, an Egyptian-born physician appointed medical examiner during Mr. Clinton’s first term, already had been buffeted by a number of controversial cases. With public pressure growing over botched tests and faulty handling of evidence in the train deaths affair, Gov. Clinton called in two out-of-state pathologists to review the work of the medical examiner and the state crime lab, where the autopsies had been conducted.
But when the Saline County grand jury probing the case attempted to subpoena the outside pathologists, Gov. Clinton balked. Betsey Wright, his chief of staff, submitted an affidavit saying she did not “know when the two pathologists will return to Little Rock” and that their contract with the state was to “make a job performance evaluation, not to provide a second opinion on specific cases.” The grand jury responded by issuing a subpoena to Ms. Wright herself on May 25, 1988, and the next day issued its initial ruling of “probable homicide” in need of further investigation.
Two months later, Gov. Clinton revived a long dormant state Medical Examiner Commission to handle the Malak controversy. The panel was headed up by the director of the Arkansas Department of Health, Joycelyn Elders. In January 1989, the Medical Examiner Commission ruled on the Malak case. There was “insufficient evidence at this time for dismissal” of Dr. Malak, Dr. Elders announced. Nine months later, Gov. Clinton introduced a bill to make the state more competitive in hiring forensic pathologists — by giving Dr. Malak a $32,000 pay raise; the state Legislature later cut the raise by half. Ms. Wright says the salary was raised in anticipation of removing Dr. Malak and attracting a new medical examiner. Dr. Malak was eased out of his job and given a position as a Health Department consultant to Dr. Elders a month before Gov. Clinton announced his presidential run.
A Los Angeles Times report in May 1992 notes that Dr. Malak’s other controversial cases included one involving Mr. Clinton’s mother, nurse-anesthetist Virginia Kelley. It said Dr. Malak’s 1981 ruling in the death of one patient Mrs. Kelley was attending helped her “avoid legal scrutiny” in that death when she was already a defendant in a negligence suit in another patient’s death. The suit was eventually settled by the hospital; Mrs. Kelley’s hospital privileges were revoked in 1981 and she withdrew from practice.
Linda Ives has developed more sinister explanations for the Clinton administration’s solicitude for Dr. Malak, charging that “high state and federal officials” have joined in an attempt to cover up the deaths of the boys and drug-related activities in Saline County. Taking allies where she can find them, she recently teamed up with California-based Jeremiah Films to produce a just-released videotape of her story. The company previously produced the notorious “Clinton Chronicles” videotape, but Mrs. Ives promises that she has “exercised full editorial control” over the new tape, and says that portions of the proceeds will go to “a special Civil Justice Fund we’ve established to find a courageous lawyer and finance a wrongful death lawsuit.”
Of course, Mrs. Ives’s own perceptions are colored by a nine-year obsession with her son’s death. “I firmly believe my son and Don Henry were killed because they witnessed a drug drop by airplane connected to the Mena drug smuggling routes,” Mrs. Ives says. “It’s the only thing that could explain everything that has happened.” It’s well established that self-confessed cocaine smuggler and Drug Enforcement Administration informant Barry Seal operated out of Mena, in western Arkansas. Although he was murdered 18 months before the death of the boys, reports of Mena-connected drug activities persisted for years.
Police records also show that one of the early investigators on the train deaths case was Arkansas State Police Officer L.D. Brown, a former security aide to Gov. Clinton who is now cooperating with Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr’s Whitewater probe. He says that he was ordered off the train deaths case in 1988. “I was told it had something to do with Mena and I was to get off it,” Mr. Brown said in a recent interview. The superior officer who gave him the order died of cancer in 1994.
Last July, in an interview with American Spectator editor R. Emmett Tyrrell, Mr. Brown claimed that he worked briefly for Barry Seal, and that when he informed Gov. Clinton of Mr. Seal’s activities, Gov. Clinton told him that it was “Lasater’s deal” and that he was not to worry about it. Dan Lasater is the Little Rock bond dealer and Clinton supporter arrested for cocaine distribution in 1986, in the same probe that netted Roger Clinton, the president’s brother. While Mr. Lasater has received far less publicity than Hillary Clinton’s financial transactions, veteran Arkansas observers have long viewed him as one of Mr. Clinton’s most troubling connections. The new round of Senate Whitewater hearings reauthorized yesterday will provide a glimpse of Mr. Lasater, since the next stage of investigation will delve into some of his deals.
As Mr. Lasater was being charged with cocaine distribution in 1986, the DEA confirmed that he was the target of a drug trafficking probe involving his private plane and a small airstrip at the New Mexico resort, Angel Fire, which he had purchased in 1984. In the transcript of his interview with the FBI, Mr. Lasater identifies a police officer named Jay Campbell as an old friend. He also says that Mr. Campbell was a member of a DEA task force and had flown on his plane. Mr. Campbell — working a narcotics beat at the time for a nearby town’s police force — was subpoenaed by the original Saline County grand jury and appears in police reports on the train deaths case.
Mr. Lasater could not be reached for comment. Mr. Campbell, now a lieutenant in a Pulaski County (Little Rock) narcotics unit, says that Mr. Lasater was only an “acquaintance” and that he was not a member of a DEA task force at the time, though he later served on several federal probes. He vigorously denies any involvement in the train deaths case and says he was “dragged into” the probe by a publicity-seeking Dan Harmon, then serving as special prosecutor for the Saline County grand jury.
One of the most constant and puzzling counterpoints in Linda Ives’s lonely crusade has been Mr. Harmon, today still prosecuting attorney for the Seventh Judicial District. Initially, he led the aggressive Saline County grand jury that had the bodies exhumed. He even worked on the case as a volunteer before requesting that the presiding judge appoint him special prosecutor to supervise investigation of the deaths. Mr. Harmon had previously served as an elected county prosecutor in 1978-1980, then declared bankruptcy and briefly decamped to California before returning to Arkansas and private practice. Mr. Harmon won his 1990 election as prosecuting attorney by capitalizing on publicity gained as special prosecutor in the train deaths, and has held the post ever since.
At the time of his election, Mr. Harmon was a suspect in the U.S. attorney’s corruption probe. “Dan Harmon. . .” states a February 1990 U.S. Attorney’s Office memorandum leaked to the Arkansas press, “has been identified as a target in this investigation.” One of the cocaine dealers targeted in the probe allegedly was connected to Mr. Harmon. The dealer, the memo says, “may have been involved, indirectly, in the murders of Kevin Ives and Don Henry.” Mr. Harmon was cleared in June 1991 when U.S. Attorney Banks announced that he had found no evidence of drug-related misconduct by officials.
It appeared that the crusade was over. But in 1993, Mrs. Ives persuaded yet another new Saline County sheriff to reopen the train deaths probe. Detective John Brown was assigned the case. He says he was soon approached by a high-ranking state official who told him “it would be best if I just left this thing alone.” But Mr. Brown did not leave it alone. In fact, Mr. Brown says that he turned up a new witness in the case. According to Mr. Brown, the witness claims that he saw Mr. Harmon on the tracks the night the boys were killed. Mr. Harmon dismisses the charge as “totally ridiculous.”
But the new witness appears to have triggered an FBI probe. Mr. Brown says he was in the process of checking out the allegation when he mentioned it to a local FBI official who, much to Mr. Brown’s surprise, immediately took the witness into protective custody and polygraphed him. “The FBI then said they were taking over the case and wanted everything I had,” Mr. Brown recalls.
Jean Duffey, the former drug task force head, says the FBI contacted her in March 1994 — three years after she fled the state — telling her that a new investigation of the train deaths and official corruption was under way, and asking for her assistance. Linda Ives also says that after about 18 months of extensive contacts, the FBI broke off communication with her last August, shortly after a summary of the case was forwarded to current U.S. Attorney Paula Casey.
In November, Mrs. Ives had a final meeting with FBI officials. Apparently, the FBI was backing away from the case, particularly the second autopsy. At the November meeting, Mrs. Ives says, “[FBI agent] Bill Temple told me, ‘It’s time for you to realize a crime has never been committed.'” Mrs. Ives and Ms. Duffey then went public with the charge that the FBI was participating in a “cover-up” of the controversial case.
The FBI has not responded to numerous requests for comment on its agents’ conversations with Mrs. Ives. In virtually the only FBI comment on the case, I.C. Smith, the Little Rock FBI chief, gave a brief interview to the local Benton Courier in which he denied that his office was covering anything up. He said that the main obstacle was “the very real problem of determining whether federal jurisdiction would apply.” Mr. Smith also suggested that Agent Temple had been “misquoted” and would not have spoken in such a “cold-hearted manner” to Mrs. Ives.
Mrs. Ives sticks by her story, and ridicules Mr. Smith’s suggestion that jurisdiction might be at issue. “It’s a federal corruption probe they’ve been working for 18 months,” she says. “It’s ludicrous to believe the FBI would work a case that long without knowing if they have jurisdiction.”
In a memo on the Benton Courier article sent to Mr. Smith (and also sent to six Arkansas media outlets), Ms. Duffey says Mrs. Ives’s account of the conversation was confirmed by Phyllis Cournan, another FBI agent in the room at time. Ms. Duffey’s memo also says that in 1994 Ms. Cournan told her that the FBI had recommended that Mr. Banks, then the U.S. attorney, be charged with obstructing justice. Mr. Banks, now in private practice in Little Rock, did not respond to requests for comment.
Meanwhile, Dan Harmon has again been making news in Arkansas. His ex-wife, Holly DuVall, was arrested Nov. 30 after making a call from Mr. Harmon’s phone to an undercover agent to buy a small amount of methamphetamine. Eleven days earlier, she had made news when local police searched her rented condominium near Hot Springs at the manager’s request, following an altercation. They found an empty cocaine evidence package that should have been locked in the safe at Mr. Harmon’s drug task force; federal investigators were soon visiting the condo and Mr. Harmon’s office.
On March 18, Ms. Duffey went public with charges against Mr. Harmon on a local TV broadcast, “The Pat Lynch Show.” One newspaper, the Malvern Daily Record, ran with the story, under the headline “Duffey alleges Harmon at scene of teens’ murder.” Four days later, Mr. Harmon announced that he was a Democratic candidate in the primary for Saline County sheriff.
The next day, he was arrested on felony kidnapping and aggravated assault charges after allegedly dragging Ms. DuVall from her car and taking her on a 100-mile-per-hour ride. After a few days in jail and a brief hunger strike, Mr. Harmon held a press conference to deny kidnapping Ms. DuVall and denounce his arrest as a “political” move to undermine him. In regard to the train deaths allegations, Mr. Harmon says he plans to sue Ms. Duffey, Mr. Lynch and the Malvern Daily Record.
In mid-January the state cut off funding for Mr. Harmon’s drug task force, and on Jan. 28 the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that “Federal investigators are said to be building a racketeering case against people associated with the now-defunct Seventh Judicial District Drug Task Force.” Arkansas State Police officials confirm that a corruption probe is under way. Mr. Harmon is not worried. “Nobody has questioned me,” he says. “Nobody has informed me I’m a target. It’s all just innuendo in the local press.”
The results of any continuing federal investigation touching on the Ives and Henry deaths will be presented to Mr. Banks’s successor as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District. So Linda Ives’ crusade will end up in the hands of Ms. Casey, the longtime Clinton ally and campaign worker who recused herself from Whitewater cases only after making several crucial decisions. President Clinton appointed her U.S. attorney in Little Rock in August 1993, shortly after his unprecedented demand for the immediate resignation of all sitting U.S. attorneys. Mrs. Ives says she is not optimistic about Ms. Casey. “But then,” she adds, “it’s not like I’m going to go away, either.”
Mr. Morrison is a Journal editorial page writer.
Copyright © 1997 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Reproduced with Permission