Developmentally Disabled Man Settles Wrongful Conviction Lawsuit for $11.7 Million


A developmentally disabled man who spent more than 16 years in prison after being wrongly convicted of murder has reached a $11,725,000 settlement with the city of Elkhart, Indiana, his attorneys said Friday.

The man, Andrew Royer, said that when he first heard about the deal “he was paralyzed.”

“I'm a new person,” Royer, 48, said in an interview Saturday. “I'm ecstatic.”

A jury convicted Mr. Royer of the 2002 murder of a 94-year-old woman, Helen Sailor, who had been found strangled in a high-rise apartment in downtown Elkhart. Mr. Royer was sentenced to 55 years in prison.

Law enforcement officials said it was a robbery that had turned violent, but there were problems with the prosecution's case from the beginning.

Mr. Royer's lawyers argued on appeal that he was interrogated for two days and forced to give a false confession without a lawyer.

In Mr. Royer's confession, he seemed unsure of many details, the Indy Star reported in 2017. Additionally, there was no physical evidence linking him to the crime.

Lana Canen, a co-defendant and friend of Mr. Royer, had her conviction overturned in 2012.

At the initial trial, Dennis Chapman, an Elkhart County detective, provided evidence that a fingerprint of Ms. Canen was found at the crime scene. When an appeals attorney had the fingerprint re-examined, it did not match.

A witness who placed Ms. Canen and Mr. Royer in the victim's apartment later recanted her testimony and said she was coerced by police.

“Sometimes I feel guilty; I don't want to go back, but I wonder: why am I away and he's not?” Canen told IndyStar in 2017. “Because I know he didn't do it.”

In March 2020, Mr. Royer was granted a new trial after a judge ruled that statements obtained from Mr. Royer were “unreliable” and “involuntary.” The following month, Mr. Royer was released from prison.

“We had lost hope,” Jeannie Pennington, Royer's mother, said Saturday. “We didn't think this would ever happen.”

The state appealed the ruling, and in April 2021, the Indiana Court of Appeals issued a resounding decision upholding the lower court's ruling for a new trial.

The appeals court said that the investigating detective, Carlton Conway, gave false testimony at the initial trial when he said that he did not induce Mr. Royer to repeat the details of the crime scene and that Mr. Royer had offered them on his own. , without the judge asking him to. police.

The court said Conway “concealed the truth.”

“When law enforcement officers lie under oath, they ignore their publicly funded training, they betray their oath and signal to the general public that perjury is something that should not be taken seriously,” the court wrote in its decision.

Conway resigned months later, after Elkhart's police chief tried to fire him. In July 2021, the state filed a motion to dismiss the case. No other arrests have been made over Ms Sailor's murder.

Mrs Pennington said of her son that it had been “just wonderful for me to see him grow into a wonderful man”.

When he came out in 2020, it was perfect timing because everything was closed,” Pennington said. “And when everything opened up, so did he. He sort of agreed with the process. And so he didn't have all those problems that people have about being introduced to society all at once and all that.”

A representative for the city of Elkhart did not respond to a request for comment Saturday. In a statement to IndyStar, Mayor Rod Roberson said, “The Roberson administration and the police department are committed to building positive relationships with the Elkhart community.”

Last year, Elkhart reached a $7.5 million settlement with Keith Cooper over his 1997 wrongful conviction for a robbery for which he was sentenced to prison for more than eight years.

Royer, who lives in Goshen, Indiana, said that since leaving prison he had been traveling with his church to rebuild homes in disaster recovery areas.

“It took me a while to get used to it,” Royer said of his freedom. “But now I'm better and I have family with me. “I am no longer in the dark.”

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