COLUMBIA — A man condemned for decades to South Carolina’s death row says prosecutors wrongfully pursued a case against him in a widow’s 1982 stabbing death, according to a federal lawsuit.
In a complaint filed last month, Edward Lee Elmore, 54, accuses authorities of planting evidence that implicated him in Dorothy Edwards’ slaying. He also says police and prosecutors conspired to convict him of the crime and ignored evidence that pointed to another person.
After a brief trial in Greenwood, a former textile town of about 23,000 people in the northwest part of the state, Elmore was sentenced to death in 1982 in the slaying of Edwards, a 75-year-old widow for whom he had done odd jobs. Her body was found in a closet in her home, stabbed 52 times. She had broken ribs, head wounds and internal injuries.
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 might 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.
In 2010, Elmore left death row when a 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.
Two years later, he left prison after entering an Alford plea to murder, maintaining his innocence but admitting there is evidence against him. Prosecutors agreed his punishment should be the 11,000 days Elmore had spent incarcerated.
Some law enforcement officials and attorneys who originally prosecuted the case against Elmore have been dead for years, so his lawsuit is against their estates. In the 44-page complaint, Elmore accuses the state of conspiring against him, withholding evidence that could have helped him – including the blond hair that for years was mislabeled – and lying during his trial.
“Edward Lee Elmore’s 30-year ordeal could and should have been avoided,” his attorneys wrote.
As a result of his conviction and incarceration, his attorneys said, Elmore has endured physical and mental anguish, in addition to embarrassment and inability to express himself freely.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages, with interest, and attorneys’ fees.
Court papers listed no attorneys for the prosecutors and officers named in Elmore’s lawsuit.