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Judge agrees to hear claims that alleged child killer was framed



A federal judge has agreed to hear arguments about evidence that, if proved true, points to a “giant” conspiracy between the FBI and local deputies and might clear Frank Jarvis Atwood of a high-profile murder.

A tiny patch of pink paint from 8-year-old Vicki Lynne Hoskinson’s bike found on the bumper of Atwood’s car was placed there through clever maneuverings, Atwood’s attorney, Larry Hammond, told U.S. District Court Judge John C. Coughenour on Monday.

Hammond requested a hearing to explore the allegations, which prosecutors have resisted. Atwood claims he’s innocent.

“The defense in this case is alleging a giant law-enforcement conspiracy that includes innumerable FBI officials and, it appears, the Pima County Sheriff’s Department,” said Robert J. Gorman of the Arizona Attorney General’s Office.

“If it’s so implausible, why not . . . put it to rest?” Coughenour asked.

“Let me check with my boss,” Gorman said. “We just might want to do that.”

Atwood was convicted and sentenced to death in 1987 for Hoskinson’s murder and has been on death row since then.

Hoskinson disappeared from her Flowing Wells neighborhood Sept. 17, 1984, while riding her bicycle to mail a letter for her mother. Her remains were not found until April 1985.

Atwood was arrested Sept. 20, 1984, in Kerrville, Texas.

Hammond’s allegations, which were aired for the first time in open court Monday, read like a “CSI” script:

Photographic and computer technology that didn’t exist at the time of Atwood’s trial or appeal helped develop the defense theory that the one solid piece of evidence that links Atwood, 51, to Hoskinson was fabricated and the act covered up.

Hammond displayed photographs of Atwood’s car allegedly taken in Kerrville when he was arrested. A defense expert said two of the photos were taken at different times with different cameras.

Those photos were taken in San Antonio, where the car was taken, Hammond said. Proof is a crimp in the concrete floor under the car that is in the rest of the San Antonio photos and the two contested photos, but not in the other Kerrville photos, Hammond said.

The day after Hoskinson’s bike was shipped to the FBI in Washington, D.C., Hammond said, Atwood’s car was delivered to Tucson.

Hammond’s theory, based on the photographs, is that the car bumpers were removed in San Antonio and delivered to Tucson, where the paint transfer took place. Photos of the bumper taken in Kerrville, San Antonio and later in Tucson show the bumper was reinstalled improperly, Hammond said.

Another photo taken on a loading dock in Tucson allegedly shows a reflection of Hoskinson’s bike in the chrome bumper from Atwood’s car.

Hammond said handwritten FBI logs allegedly indicate someone in the FBI covered up the conspiracy.

“At the end of the day, the photographic record speaks for (itself),” Hammond said.

Coughenour expressed doubt about the photographs and the defense expert, who was not named in court.

“I don’t see what you see,” Coughenour told Hammond.

If the state doesn’t contest the evidentiary hearing, Hammond will have about 90 days to interview witnesses and gather experts to back his claims.

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