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Convicted Father Proclaims Innocence

October 6, 1997

ATLANTA (AP) _ Jan Barry Sandlin says he was framed in court by his own daughter for the murder of her infant brother 26 years ago. But he forgives her.

``I’m her father. Of course, I love her ... and I can forgive her for what she did, to an extent,″ Sandlin said from a suburban Atlanta jail.

Sandlin was sentenced last month to two life terms for murder, aggravated assault and child cruelty in the death of 4-month-old Matthew Golder in 1971.

Tracy Rhame says she was the one who was framed, blamed for years for the death of her half-brother when she was only 2 years old. Now 28, she pushed authorities for more than a decade to reopen the case against her father.

``I don’t need and I don’t want his forgiveness,″ she said. ``This was not about getting even with him. This was about finding out the truth.″

It was a case of bitter, tangled relationships. Sandlin’s ex-wife and Tracy’s mother, Kathy Almon, testified for the prosecution, but also said she resented her daughter for trying to re-open the case.

Matthew was the son of another man to whom Ms. Almon was married at the time of the death. Sandlin, who had fathered Tracy earlier, married Ms. Almon in 1973, two years after the boy’s death. They divorced six years later.

On the day of the death, Ms. Almon left the boy with Sandlin while she and Tracy ran errands. When she returned, she took Tracy inside and went to get laundry from her car.

When she returned to the apartment, she found Matthew on the floor barely breathing and her daughter in the crib.

Authorities decided Matthew died from a fall from the crib. Last year, at Tracy’s insistence, the boy’s body was exhumed and examined, leading to Sandln’s prosecution.

``He fooled me and a lot of other people when Matt died. Now, he’s finally getting what he deserves ... for killing my son,″ Ms. Almon said.

It took two trials to convict Sandlin. His first, in July, ended in a mistrial because Tracy admitted violating a court order not to watch or read any media coverage of the case.

Sandlin never testified and his lawyers called no witnesses. He has appealed his conviction.

He told The Associated Press last week that he decided to speak because he was angry with his ex-wife’s testimony against him.

``When she got up there and said, `He framed Tracy and murdered my child,′ that was the last straw,″ he said. He was serving a life sentence in Florida for armed robbery when he was brought to suburban Atlanta temporarily for the trial.

``I didn’t kill that boy. Let’s face it, I’ve done some bad things. That’s why I’m in here,″ Sandlin said. ``But the three things I’ve never done is murder, rape and child molestation.″

Sandlin will serve at least 19 years in Florida before he will become eligible for parole. If released, he must serve at least seven years in Georgia for Matthew’s death.

Sandlin said Tracy and her mother lied in court, testifying that he had injured the infant when the boy was in his care once before.

``The only time I watched that boy, God bless his soul, was the day he died,″ he said.

Sandlin said he believes relatives told Tracy stories of how she killed her brother and then was forced to prove her innocence.

``I believe wholeheartedly that she’s been programmed for this through her mother and her grandmother,″ he said.

Sandlin conceded it was unlikely that Tracy climbed into the crib and threw the boy to his death. He refused to discuss what happened that day or his defense attorney’s argument that Ms. Almon was the killer.

``I can’t point my finger at her. I can only tell what happened _ I didn’t do it,″ he said.

Tracy denied feeling compelled to clear her name.

``The dictionary defines a father ... as someone caring, nurturing, protective,″ she said. ``He was never any of those things. I knew him as a very small child and what I knew was abuse and violence.″