A mentally disabled man who spent nearly 30 years on South Carolina's death row
could soon be leaving prison because of a single strand of hair. The hair does
not exonerate Edward Lee Elmore, a handyman, in the stabbing death of a widow
he worked for, but it has raised enough doubt to win him a new trial - and a
bail hearing Friday. The chance to leave prison after 3 decades comes after
numerous appeals and his sentence being overturned three times, including a
reduction from death to life in prison.
In 1982, Elmore was convicted of killing Dorothy Edwards. Her body was found in
a closet in her home, stabbed 52 times. She had numerous broken ribs, head
wounds and internal injuries. <>P> At the bond hearing, Elmore faces murder and
sexual assault charges.
Raymond Bonner, a former New York Times reporter, has followed the case for
more than a decade and recently wrote a book about it. He said police were
anxious to make an arrest to allay a community's fears that a rapist and
murderer was among them, and authorities hastily arrested Elmore. Bonner said
prosecutors never established a motive.
"There aren't a lot of people on death row who are factually innocent," Bonner
said. "Edward Lee Elmore is factually innocent. He did not commit that crime.
... He was framed."
Elmore was convicted in a brief trial in Greenwood, a former textile town of
about 23,000 people in the northwest part of the state. As with most death row
cases, his appeals made their way through a variety of courts.
As other death row inmates were exonerated because of new DNA testing
technology, Elmore's attorneys asked a judge in 2000 to overturn his
convictions because a blond hair found on Edwards after her death did not match
her or Elmore.
Elmore's lawyers thought the blond hair may have belonged to Edwards' next-door
neighbor and they asked a judge to exhume the man's body to test his DNA, but a
judge denied the request.
It wasn't until 2010 that Elmore began to see his fate turn around. A South
Carolina judge ruled he was mentally unfit and could not be executed, per a
2002 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.
State prosecutors didn't oppose a judge's decision to sentence him to life in
prison, and Elmore was, after 28 years, moved from the state's death row to
another maximum-security prison.
In September 2010, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., heard
arguments about the blond hair.
Elmore's attorneys said authorities concealed the strand by labeling it as a
carpet fiber. Prosecutors argued the strand should be considered along with
other evidence, including some four dozen pubic hairs that matched Elmore's
DNA, as well as the defendant's incriminating statements to a jailhouse
The judges overturned his conviction in November. After considering the case
for more than a year, the court ruled investigators failed to follow standard
procedures in collecting hairs from Edwards' bed, neglecting to take photos,
collect bedcovers or sheets for further forensic analysis or package the hairs
like other evidence taken from the crime scene.
Defense attorneys also failed to capitalize on an expert's finding that Edwards
likely died at a time when Elmore could prove he was elsewhere, the court said.
In January, the U.S. Supreme Court denied South Carolina prosecutors' request
to delay Elmore's fourth trial. Friday's bond hearing is among the 1st steps of
It's not clear what will happen at the hearing. Prosecutors could decide not to
pursue their case, and Elmore would go free. Or the judge could set bail or
decide against it and keep Elmore behind bars until another trial is held.
Local Solicitor Jerry Peace says Elmore is being brought up on charges of
murder and sexual assault, but neither he nor Elmore's defense attorneys wished
to comment before Friday's hearing. Previously, Elmore's lawyer has said her
client's five siblings, who have stuck by him ever since his arrest, are ready
to welcome him home but noted that her client was nervous about life outside
prison, given how much time he's spent on death row, where inmates are mostly
"He's still extremely apprehensive," Diana Holt said after a judge ruled Elmore
would leave death row. "He wants to know when he might be moved so he can brace
himself for it."
(source: A ssociated Press)