A man who spent the past 11 years on death row is now free after a jury decided last week that he did not intentionally kill his girlfriend and their unborn child.
Joseph “Jody” Ard was released from the Lexington County Detention Center Tuesday. The release came after a jury instead found him guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of 17-year-old Madalyn Coffey and the 35-week-old fetus she was carrying, rather than murder. The judge sentenced him to time served.
Ard had said that Coffey threatened to kill herself and the .44-caliber gun went off accidentally during a struggle. His defense team brought new evidence forward during a retrial this month. The defense’s core argument was that Coffey had gun residue on her hand, which they said supported the theory that Coffey and Ard were fighting for the gun when it accidentally fired.
Ard was overcome with emotion as he walked out of prison Tuesday evening. He told WIS-TV in Columbia, “They did it. They fought for me hard and they cleared my name.
Prosecutors had previously said Ard shot Coffey intentionally and the fetus suffocated shortly afterwards. He was the first person sentenced to death for killing a fetus.