Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Book review - Anatomy of injustice: A murder case gone wrong

You probably don't know who Edward Lee Elmore is. You probably don't know the story of the murder of Dorothy Edwards. Maybe you don't know who Diana Holt is.

But after you read Raymond Bonner's book Anatomy of Injustice: A murder case gone wrong you will know all you need to know about the flaws in our judicial system and why the death penalty must be abolished.

Edward Elmore was a young black man living in Greenwood, South Carolina. He didn't have much of an education but he could fix things. He made a few dollars here and there as a handyman for some of the elderly white ladies in Greenwood.

Dorothy Edwards was one of those ladies. Her husband had died a few years earlier and Mr. Elmore offered to help her with some minor maintenance on the outside of her house, just like he did for some of her neighbors.

One day Ms. Edwards turned up dead. She had been murdered in her house. The body had been discovered by her retired neighbor, Jimmy Holloway. After a cursory investigation, Mr. Elmore became the prime suspect.

As he was indigent, the court appointed an attorney to represent him. Geddes Anderson was the public defender in Greenwood. He was also a alcoholic who would appear in court drunk. More importantly, he had no idea how to defend a murder case. Without conducting any investigation, without seeking funds to retain any experts, without gathering any mitigation evidence, without putting together a defense and without believing in his client, Mr. Anderson sat in the courtroom and watched a jury convict Mr. Elmore and sentence him to die.

And not just once. Due to procedural flaws in the trial Mr. Elmore was granted a new trial (and a third one after that). The pattern continued during each new trial. Mr. Anderson sat there and did very little to defend his client and watched two more juries convict Mr. Elmore of the murder and sentence him to die.

Then along came Diana Holt, a very unconventional law student from Texas who began working with the South Carolina Death Penalty Resource Center. For 15 years she worked tirelessly on Mr. Elmore's case. She interviewed witnesses and uncovered evidence. She filed writs. She filed motions seeking DNA testing on evidence gathered in the initial investigation.

And even though an appellate judge said, after a lengthy hearing, that Mr. Elmore might very well not be guilty, that same judge denied Mr. Elmore's request for relief - using the state's reply brief as the court's order denying Mr.Elmore's request for post-conviction relief.

Ms. Holt uncovered evidence that should have exonerated Mr. Elmore. She discovered evidence, ignored by his original defense attorney, that Mr. Elmore was borderline mentally retarded. But it still didn't get the conviction reversed or the death sentence lifted.

In the end Mr. Elmore entered an Allford plea in which he acknowledged the evidence that the state would present and entered a plea of guilty based on that evidence - while maintaining his innocence. As part of the deal with the state he was released from custody and credited with time served.

Mr. Elmore sat in prison for 25 years for a murder he did not commit. The justice system, which ultimately "saved" him, failed him when it counted most. He was the victim of a biased investigation, incompetent representation and a judiciary that wasn't willing to see justice done.

Mr. Elmore walked out of a prison in which he never should have been. Mr. Elmore didn't kill Dorothy Edwards, but he was not exonerated. The conviction remains on his record. He never received an apology from the state for the years lost. He was never compensated for the time that was stolen from him.

A rough form of justice was served at the end - but it doesn't erase the stench of what came first.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ms. Holt exaggerated her involvement in this case. Sixteen years? Hardly. Perhaps it did take her 16 years to write her opinion of this case. I suggest the publication would depend on the verdict being thrown out. There was overwelming physical evidence to rightfully convict this man for Mrs. Edward's brutal murder.

Ms. Holt claims to be from Texas. What a shame she couldn't find even one death penalty conviction if her state for which to devote so much of her time.

But then again,this book most likely would have never seen publication without overturning the verdict.

Ms. Holt, How well do you stay in contact with with Mr. Elmore? Hmm