Man with mental disability freed, granted new trial in murder case

A northern Indiana man who has maintained for more than a decade that law enforcement officials in Elkhart exploited his mental disability to coerce him into a false murder confession has been released from prison and granted a new trial.

Andrew Royer was released from the Kosciusko County Jail on Thursday, roughly 15 years after his 2005 conviction in the murder of 92-year-old Helen Sailor. Special Judge Joe V. Sutton granted Royer’s successive post-conviction relief petition Tuesday.

Officials with the Pendleton Correctional Facility transferred Royer to the Kosciusko County Jail on Wednesday and told him for the first time on Thursday that he would be released later that day, according to the South Bend Tribune. He was greeted by his mother and stepfather, Jeannie and Michael Pennington, the newspaper reported.

Sailor was killed in her Elkhart apartment complex over Thanksgiving weekend in 2002. The case had gone stagnant until 2003, when local woman Nina Porter implicated Lana Canen and Royer in the murder.

Porter, a friend of Canen’s, told law enforcement that Canen had said, “No one was supposed to get hurt” and “Thanksgiving, thanks for giving death.” Porter also said Royer, who has a mental disability, was totally under Canen’s control.

The motive, prosecutors alleged, was a need for money and anger toward religion.

Canen and Royer were convicted as co-defendants in 2005. But after fingerprint evidence that had tied Canen to the crime scene was discredited, she was exonerated in 2012.

Meanwhile, Royer has consistently maintained his innocence, making numerous attempts at relief by claiming that coercive interrogation techniques led to his false confession and that withheld evidence played into his guilty verdict. His most recent PCR bid – filed with permission from the Indiana Court of Appeals – raised allegations of withheld and/or destroyed exculpatory evidence, witness coercion, perjury, psychologically coercive interrogation techniques and ineffective assistance of counsel.

Royer has been represented by The Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago Law School and Notre Dame Law School, and the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law Wrongful Conviction Clinic. Lead attorney Elliot Slosar of the Chicago operation said on Twitter, “Welcome home Andy. Your freedom has been sixteen years in the making.”

For his part, Royer said after his release that he felt “like a whole new person,” according to The Tribune. The paper reported that Royer’s first request as a free man was to get a meal from KFC.

The court ordered that Royer be released on his own recognizance to personally appear in Elkhart Superior Court 3 at 3 p.m. June 18 for a scheduling conference.

The case is State of Indiana v. Andrew Royer, 20D03-0309-MR-155.

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