(CN) – An Ohio man who spent seven years in prison for two rapes and a murder he didn’t commit can sue police for allegedly withholding exculpatory evidence.
In 1999, a jury convicted Clarence Elkins Sr. of raping and murdering his mother-in-law, Judy Johnson, and of assaulting and raping his 6-year-old niece. The primary evidence against him was his niece’s testimony, later recanted, that McGill was the man who raped her.
He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
After serving served seven years behind bars, McGill was exonerated by DNA evidence, which revealed that his former neighbor, Earl Mann, had committed the crimes.
Elkins was able to prove his own innocence “through a series of breathtakingly improbable coincidences,” according to the ruling.
While in prison, he heard a news report that Mann was convicted of molesting his young daughters. Mann ended up in the same prison as Elkins. Suspicious of his former neighbor, Elkins picked up one of his cigarette butts in a prison recreational area with toilet paper and spent the next two weeks trying to get a plastic bag through the prison’s black market so he could send the untainted sample to his attorney, which he did.
Subsequent testing showed that Mann’s DNA matched the DNA at the crime scene.
Elkins was released from prison, and Ohio awarded him more than $1 million in a wrongful imprisonment settlement.
He then filed a federal lawsuit against Barberton, Ohio, and several police officers and detectives who investigated the rapes and murder.
Elkins claimed they withheld a police memo that would have exonerated him, as it detailed an arrest during which a drunken Mann asked a Barberton officer, “Why don’t you charge me with the Judy Johnson murder?”
A federal judge dismissed the claims against the city, but allowed McGill to sue the officers for due process violations, malicious prosecution and loss of consortium.
The Cincinnati-based federal appeals court agreed that the officers were not entitled to immunity on those claims.
“It is clear that Mann’s statement, which linked him directly to Johnson’s murder, ‘might be expected to play a significant role in [Elkins’] defense,'” Judge Boyce Martin Jr. wrote. “Therefore, the Mann memorandum was apparently exculpatory in light of the whole case at the time, and the officers’ failure to disclose it violated Elkins’ right to due process.”