Old Evidence Resurfaces, Unsettling '82 Murder
By RAYMOND BONNER
December 12, 2000
GREENWOOD, S.C., Dec. 7 — A grisly crime shocked this small town nearly
19 years ago. A 75-year-old widow, Dorothy Ely Edwards, who grew up riding
horses, studied music in college and took up painting in her 50's, was
raped and murdered, stabbed 52 times, her body, clothed only in her robe,
dumped in her bedroom closet.
It took the police only a few days to arrest a suspect — Edward Lee
Elmore, 23, one of 11 children, who had grown up in poverty, dropped out
of school in the fifth grade and washed the windows at Mrs. Edwards's house
a couple of weeks before she was murdered.
Mr. Elmore was arrested and quickly convicted and has been on death
row for 18 years. But on Dec. 21 his lawyers will seek a third trial, contending
that their client is a victim of prosecutorial misconduct.
This time, the defense has what it considers a powerful weapon in its
arsenal: new DNA evidence from hairs that had been found on Mrs. Edwards's
body. The chief forensic investigator had said repeatedly over the years
that the hair samples had been lost; two years ago, under pressure from
the defendant's lawyers and the state attorney general, he found them —
in his file cabinet. They had probably been there all the time, an assistant
attorney general said in a deposition last month.
Mr. Elmore's lawyers contend that tests of the samples, filed with
the court on Dec. 4, prove that Dorothy Edwards was killed by someone other
than Mr. Elmore.
For all its local elements, the Elmore case is typical of many capital
cases around the country, said John Blume, a veteran death penalty defense
lawyer in Columbia, S.C., who has worked on Mr. Elmore's appeal. The defendant
is black, the victim white, and Mr. Elmore's court-appointed lawyers were
underpaid and inexperienced. Above all, Mr. Blume said, there are the allegations
of prosecutorial misconduct.
The state attorney general's office declined to comment and the state
would not allow the investigator who had the hair evidence in his file
cabinet to be interviewed. The director of the South Carolina Law Enforcement
Division, Robert M. Stewart, said in an interview that he did not know
whether the investigator's failure to find it before was "an intentional,
criminal act, or some administrative mistake."
At the heart of the case are hair samples discovered at the scene of
the crime. Some — the ones that subsequently disappeared — were found on
Mrs. Edwards's body by investigators, who contended at the time that they
had come from a black man. But the new DNA tests show that some of the
hairs were Mrs. Edwards's, while others belonged to someone else — a someone
else who was white.
In Mr. Elmore's two previous trials (the first conviction was overturned
on appeal), investigators also testified that they had found 45 hairs on
the bed that they said had been yanked from the defendant by Mrs. Edwards
during a struggle. Mr. Elmore's lawyers claim that these hairs were planted.
The defense lawyers note that the police found no other evidence on
the bed, like blood or seminal stains, that might have been expected in
a violent struggle. The hairs found under Mrs. Edwards's fingernails were
from a Caucasian, the state and the defense agree.
The defense lawyers also point out that the sheets were described only
as "wrinkled" by a neighbor, the first person on the scene. The police
took no photographs of the bed, saying later it was "an oversight."