The outright dishonesty of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED), and police ineptitude and deceit led to one man serving thirty years on death row in a South Carolina prison for a crime he did not commit.
In 1982, Edward Lee Elmore, a black man, was convicted for the sexual assault and murder of a Greenwood, South Carolina, elderly, white widow. Mr. Elmore’s trial lasted only eight days and is a prime example, according to his defense attorneys, of flagrant prosecutorial misconduct.
Elmore, who is mentally retarded, was the eighth of eleven children born to a tenant farmer’s daughter and was raised in extreme poverty. He did know the murdered woman, as he would wash the windows of and clean the gutters of her house on occasion, and did so two weeks before her murder.
Elmore’s defense team, who was convinced of their client’s innocence from the start, stated contradictions in the physical evidence against Elmore appeared at the beginning of the trial. They cite the following discrepancies by the prosecution:
- The prosecutor said that 53 pubic hairs from the victim’s bed had been gathered and the majority belonged to the defendant. This was the only physical evidence that placed Mr. Elmore in the house at the time of the crime.
- SLED agent, Earl Wells, stated the total count of hairs was actually 49, but the evidence bag contained only 42 hairs because he had taken seven out for testing.
- Mr. Elmore’s defense team did not object to this discrepancy during their cross-examination of Mr. Wells.
- The evidence bag was not sealed, which means the defendant’s hair could have been placed in the bag at anytime.
- No photos of the bed or evidence other than the hairs were taken from the sheets of the bed. The reason for this, according to the prosecution, was that the sheets did not appear to be stained.
- The doctor from the autopsy sent hairs to SLED agent Wells to be examined under a microscope. Wells is the agent who said the hairs were from the defendant. This evidence labeled as “Item T” had never been turned over to the defense team, and was found missing. Sixteen years after the trial, “Item T” was found in Earls Well’s filing cabinet.
- When “Item T” was DNA tested and examined by a retired FBI agent, it was learned the hair did not belong to Mr. Elmore.
Although the only damning piece of evidence, “Item T,” was proven to be not from the body of Mr. Elmore, the judge in the case and the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled against freeing Edward Elmore, stating, “one hair is not enough.”
Fortunately for the defendant, his lawyers appealed and in November of 2011, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a new trial. Judge Robert Bruce King wrote in the court’s 163-page opinion, there was “persuasive evidence that the agents were outright dishonest”, and there was further evidence of “police ineptitude and deceit.”
In March of 2012, Edward Elmore made an agreement with the state of South Carolina and walked out of the courthouse a free man. In his agreement, he denied any involvement in the crime, but pleaded guilty in exchange for his freedom.
Mr. Elmore’s murder trial is a prime example of how prosecutorial misconduct, inept defense lawyers, and police deceit can lead to the conviction of an innocent man. Fortunately for Elmore, he had on his side two determined appellate lawyers who were not going to give up until they not only proved the innocence of their client, but exposed the ineptitude, deceit and dishonesty of prosecutors, as well.
Original article can be read here.
Photo courtesy of Flickr by Les Haines.