Clarence Elkins, who spent seven and a half years incarcerated for crimes DNA proved he did not commit, is having a sickening sense of déjà vu. His letter to the editor published in the Akron Beacon Journal (here) draws parallels between his wrongful conviction and the case of former Akron police captain Douglas Prade.
In both cases the Summit County Prosecutor resisted considering a wrongful conviction even after DNA testing of crucial crime scene evidence did not match the convicted men.
In Elkins’s case, the prosecutor resisted revisiting the case even as more advanced testing proved unequivocally that Elkins was not the source of the crime scene biological evidence. She eventually acknowledged the wrongful conviction when DNA testing of the evidence linked to Earl Mann, a convicted felon with a history of child molestation. Mann lived just doors away from the scene of the murder and rape of Elkins’s mother-in-law and the rape of his six-year-old niece. When confronted with the DNA lab results, Mann admitted committing the crimes.
Last month, Common Pleas Judge Judy Hunter declared Douglas Prade “actually innocent” of the murder of his former wife, Dr. Margo Prade. Doug Prade had served fifteen years in prison for the crime when the judge ordered his immediate release.
The Summit County prosecutor announced the same day that she would appeal the decision. Prade had been convicted largely on the testimony of a forensic dentist who said that a bite mark, which penetrated the victim’s lab coat and blouse and left an impression on her arm, was left by Douglas Prade. However, recent DNA testing of the evidence on the lab coat at the bite mark did not match Prade.
Since Prade’s conviction, DNA has proven that bite mark evidence and testimony has been unreliable in several cases of wrongful conviction. With no tangible evidence against Prade, the prosecutor would need to rely on circumstantial evidence to prosecute him.
Elkins recalls a similar pattern in his case. “The Summit County Prosecutor’s Office, in its fight to keep an innocent man in prison in 2005, pointed to all the trial witnesses who said I was the only one with a motive…
“The same trial attorneys prosecuted both of us (Prade and Elkins), and they somehow got witnesses to spin things to make it look much worse for us than what was actually true,” wrote Elkins.
“…When I read the prosecutor’s comments about Prade, it made me feel sick,” Elkins said.
“Instead of wasting their time trying to put an innocent man back in prison, prosecutors should be out trying to find the real killer,” he added.
That’s a very good point, and one that is seldom mentioned. When an innocent person is convicted, a guilty one has escaped justice and is free to continue criminal acts. In the Elkins case, for example, Earl Mann raped three little girls while the innocent Elkins languished in prison.
We would like to think that when a wrongfully convicted person is exonerated, the real perpetrator will be apprehended and prosecuted. However, if the jurisdiction’s prosecutor refuses to acknowledge a conviction error, it’s less likely that a serious investigation will be launched. Tragically, when a prosecutor chooses to protect a verdict rather than fulfill his or her first responsibility to seek the truth and true justice, the real perpetrator—even if a violent murderer—can get a free pass.