Our justice system is far from perfect: mistakes happen with alarming frequency. And when they do, innocent people are sent to prison for crimes they didn’t commit.
In fact, this is one of the strongest arguments against the death penalty. Many people—from ordinary citizens to professors to legal professionals—are disturbed by the idea that the government might execute an innocent person.
This was almost the case for one man: Edward Lee Elmore.
CNN recently reported the story of Elmore, now 53 years old, who spent 30 years in prison for the murder of 75-year-old Dorothy Edwards. Most of this time was spent on death row. Elmore maintained his innocence throughout his prison term, though two post-conviction review courts rejected his claims.
It took the extraordinary efforts of attorney Diana Holt (who started investigating Elmore’s case in 1993) to finally free Elmore.
During her investigation, Holt found evidence that prosecutors had suppressed evidence that could have caused a jury to doubt their case and introduced evidence that was not present at the crime scene, namely hairs from Elmore. She also found evidence that police had unquestioningly accepted the testimony and timeline of Edwards’s neighbor (who died in 1994), never looking into the truth of his allegations.
In 2011, the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals reversed Elmore’s conviction and ordered a new trial. The court found that Elmore’s original lawyers had “blindly accepted the prosecution’s case without bothering to examine the evidence,” according to CNN.
The court called Elmore’s case “one of those exceptional cases of ‘extreme malfunctions in the criminal justice system.’”
Elmore was released from prison in 2012; however, he has, unfortunately, not been fully exonerated. He accepted a plea agreement, in which he pleaded guilty and was credited with time served.
While Holt, and undoubtedly Elmore, would rather have seen a dismissal of charges or an acquittal by a jury, Elmore’s immediate freedom was more important.
Though rare, cases like these illustrate why it is so important to have an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. Misconduct on the part of prosecutors or detectives—or incompetent counsel—can be devastating.
If you’ve been charged with a crime, please feel free to contact the skilled defense attorneys at Greenberg, Greenberg & Kenyon. We’re here to protect you and your future.