Under a plea arrangement, a mentally disabled man who spent nearly 30 years on South Carolina's death row for the stabbing death of a woman has been set free.
Edward Lee Elmore’s lawyers have long insisted that their client was innocent of the death of a 75-year-old widow for whom he worked as a handyman. The woman, Dorothy Edwards, had been found in a closet in her home after having been stabbed 52 times in 1982.
Elmore pleaded guilty to the crime as part of the plea arrangement with prosecutors.
Elmore’s lawyers argued that a strand of blond hair found on Edwards after her death proved that he was not her killer, citing the fact that their client’s hair is black. His attorneys also argued that Elmore was mentally disabled and had a low IQ. The United States Supreme Court has ruled that states cannot execute people who are mentally disabled.
Although the hair discrepancy did not exonerate Elmore, it did raise enough doubt to win him a new trial and a bail hearing that led to the plea deal. His release after three decades comes after numerous appeals and his sentence being overturned three times, including a reduction from death to life in prison.
Elmore had been accused of rape and burglary. But prosecutors dropped those charges and Elmore was released, leaving the Greenwood County courthouse as a free man, with a cheering crowd outside the courthouse.
In the courtroom was Raymond Bonner, a former reporter with The New York Times who 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 the community's fears that a rapist and murderer was among them and the little evidence that linked Elmore to the crime was planted.
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(Photo: AP Photo/ Richard Shiro)