Elkhart inmate files wrongful conviction petition claiming Elkhart Police coerced his statement

Nearly 13 years after he was found guilty of a murder he claims he did not commit and following a subsequent series of failed attempts at appellate and post-conviction relief, a developmentally disabled man has petitioned the Elkhart Circuit Court to overturn his conviction on the basis of new evidence he says proves his confession was coerced and his counsel was ineffective.

Andrew Royer, who is currently serving a 55-year sentence in the Pendleton Correctional Facility, filed a petition to vacate the judgment against him in Judge Teresa Cataldo’s court on Wednesday. The petition was filed by Elliot Slosar, an attorney for the Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago Law School. Slosar worked in conjunction with the Notre Dame Exoneration Project at Notre Dame Law School and the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law on Royer’s wrongful conviction case, which traces back to the November 2002 murder of Helen Sailor.

Sailor was found dead in her unit at the Waterfall Highrise Apartments in Elkhart on Nov. 29, 2002, the day after Thanksgiving. Her body was discovered after Sailor did not return several phone calls during the Thanksgiving evening and the following morning, prompting family members to unlock her apartment. Witnesses found several of Sailor’s personal items out of place, including her Bible, where she was believed to have kept money. No money was found in the Bible when Sailor’s body was discovered.

An autopsy revealed the 94-year-old died of strangulation. Injuries to her eyes, hands and wrists were discovered on the body, as well as a “greasy pink fluid” on her clothing.

The Elkhart Police Department’s homicide unit took over the investigation into Sailor’s death in August 2003, when Detectives Carl Conway and Mark Daggy began following up on unresolved leads. One of those leads allegedly came from Jerome Johnson, a Highrise resident who claimed Royer and co-defendant, Lana Canen, stopped by his apartment around midnight on the night of the murder.

Then in September 2003, Nina Porter, who knew both Canen and Royer, was pulled over and arrested for driving without a license. Porter told police, then later testified at the joint trial against both defendants, that Canen had told her in July 2003 “no one was supposed to get hurt.” Porter also testified that Canen told her she “went upstairs to an old lady, and she said she could come and get money. When she got there, she couldn’t give her the money because someone told her not to.” Finally, Porter, who was the state’s key witness, said she heard Canen mumble, “Thanksgiving, thanks for giving death.”

Canen was also tied to Sailor’s murder via a latent fingerprint found in Sailor’s apartment. A self-proclaimed latent fingerprint expert testified that the print matched Canen’s latent fingerprint, placing her in the apartment. Though no physical evidence was found against Royer, Porter testified that he would do whatever Canen told him to, while police obtained a taped confession from the man.

Together, that evidence led to both Royer and Canen’s convictions in 2005. Royer has filed multiple appellate and PCR motions, but to no avail. However, Canen was exonerated in 2012 after Detective Dennis Chapman, the “expert” who originally linked Canen’s latent fingerprint to the one found at the scene, changed his opinion and instead told the court that the print found at the scene actually excluded Canen.

Chapman also admitted that he had never been certified as a latent print examiner, while Vicki Becker, the attorney who prosecuted the Royer-Canen case and who is now the Elkhart County Prosecutor, claimed Chapman intentionally lied to her when he said “he had personally performed over 100 evaluations of latent print comparisons.” That lie and other alleged omissions and failures by Elkhart law enforcement and Royer’s counsel form the basis of the petition to vacate judgment in State of Indiana v. Andrew Royer, 20D03-0309-MR-155.

The 105-page petition illuminates several pieces of new evidence that Slosar said prove Royer is an innocent man who was wrongly convicted. Aside from Chapman’s lie about his credentials and his faulty fingerprint analysis, the petition also takes aim at Porter and Johnson’s statements, which the two witnesses have now recanted.

Both Porter and Johnson now claim their statements were false and were the result of police coercion. Porter, who was on probation when she was pulled over, said detectives screamed “Do you want to lose your kids? Do you want to go back to prison?” to scare her, then turned off the tape recorder and instructed her to read phrases written on the back of photographs. Once the recorder was turned back on, Porter repeated the phrases presented to her, including “Thanksgiving, thanks for giving death.” Daggy also paid Porter $2,000 for her testimony, a fact that was not disclosed to the defense, according to the petition.

Johnson has also admitting to lying in his testimony, stating instead that no one but his sister visited his apartment on Thanksgiving Day in 2002. He said “the police hounded (him) for six months,” leading to his perjury.

Similarly, the central claim of both Royer’s defense and his petition to vacate judgment rests on the allegation that his statement was also coerced and, thus, false. Royer was receiving mental health treatment for his diagnoses of Schizoaffective disorder, depression and a personality disorder prior to becoming a suspect, yet was not given his medication prior to Conway’s interrogation. Two members of the Elkhart Police Department, including Daggy, later testified that Conway’s interrogation of Royer was “the worst they have ever seen,” pointing to Conway’s leading questions that led to inconsistent statements.

Lt. Peggy Snider shared Daggy’s concerns and said she never believed Royer was the killer. Instead, she implicated Larry Wood, a medication deliveryman who regularly delivered Sailor’s prescriptions. Wood was the last person known to see Sailor alive, and blood and an oily substance similar to what was found on Sailor’s body were found on his shoes. The petition also points to evidence of Wood admitting during a truth verification exam that he had strangled Sailor.

None of the evidence against Wood was introduced at trial, and law enforcement testified that no clear suspects emerged early in the investigation. The petition disputes that assertion, pointing to the investigation into Wood and another suspect, Tony Thomas, who seen at the apartment complex acting belligerently and suspiciously on the day of the murder.  

While the petition takes aim at Elkhart Police for allegedly withholding this evidence, it also alleges that Royer’s counsel, Elkhart attorney Chris Crawford, was ineffective for failing to impeach witnesses, failing to confront law enforcement’s alleged perjury regarding the existence of other suspects, and failing to follow through on Royer’s request to sever his trial from Canen’s, among other allegations of ineffective assistance.

“This evidence illustrates Mr. Royer’s innocence and reveals that the prosecution, through the Elkhart Police Department, withheld material exculpatory evidence,” Slosar wrote in the petition, which requests an oral hearing. “Further, Mr. Royer’s trial counsel was wholly ineffective. Under Indiana Trial Rule 60(B)(8), this Court should vacate the judgment on Mr. Royer’s Petition for Post-Conviction Relief and grant Mr. Royer a new trial.”

Neither representatives from the Elkhart Police or Prosecutor’s Office nor Crawford immediately responded to requests for comment on the allegations against them. As on Friday afternoon, no action had been taken on Royer’s petition in the trial court.  Court records show Royer is currently scheduled to be released on March 3, 2030.

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