From The Ohio Justice Files:
Clarkence Elkins was conviceted of raping and killing his mother-in-law and raping his 6 year old niece and then put away in the slammer to rot. The prosecution evidently coached the 6 year old to identify Clarence at the scene of the crime, although he had 19 witnesses saying that he was in another city - many miles away - at the time of the crime.
Appeal after appeal was turned down.
A praying wife and other supporters (such as the stalwarts at Project Innocence in Ohiohttp://www.truthinjustice.org/ipcontacts.htm) did not give up .
New twist in 1998 killing
Convicted man says DNA implicates fellow prisoner. Other inmate says he's innocent
By Phil Trexler Beacon Journal staff writer Posted on Thu, Sep. 22, 2005
Attorneys for Clarence Elkins are demanding his release from prison, saying new DNA tests link a convicted rapist to a 1998 murder and rape.
The discovery marks the first time that science has connected someone to the crime scene.
And the lead detective may be Elkins himself, who, while imprisoned with the suspect, secretly picked up his fellow inmate's cigarette butt and mailed it to his attorney for DNA testing.
Akron attorney Jana DeLoach and Mark Godsey, a University of Cincinnati law professor and director of the Ohio Innocence Project, say the tests confirm what Elkins has said since his arrest on June 7, 1998:
He is innocent of killing his mother-in-law, Judith Johnson, and raping and beating his 6-year-old niece.
The attorneys say testing of DNA found on the victims is an exact match to Earl Gene Mann, 32, a former Barberton neighbor of Johnson who is serving a seven-year prison sentence for raping three girls.
The DNA findings are expected to be announced today at an 11 a.m. news conference organized by the Elkins family and defense team at the Akron Bar Association.
Prosecutors could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.
Just two months ago, Summit County Common Pleas Judge Judy Hunter denied Elkins' bid for a new trial after DNA tests on crime scene samples excluded him. The judge's decision is being appealed. In light of the new evidence, Elkins' attorneys say they intend to ask prosecutors to bring the case back to Hunter's court for another hearing on the DNA evidence.
At the time of Hunter's ruling, the Elkins defense team had not matched the male DNA found on the victims to anyone.
DNA test results
Test results found this month by DNA experts with Orchid Cellmark, a certified lab used by prosecutors and defense attorneys, linked Mann to DNA extracted from the girl's underwear and Johnson's vagina, defense lawyers say.
No physical evidence ever linked Elkins to the crime. He was convicted primarily on the eyewitness testimony of his niece and claims by Johnson's friends that Elkins had threatened the 58-year-old woman for meddling in his marriage.
A jury convicted Elkins, 42, and a judge sentenced him to life in prison.
Since the 1999 trial, the niece has recanted her identification of Elkins as her attacker. At the same time, Elkins' wife, Melinda, has continued to lead a familywide campaign to win her husband's freedom and find out who really killed her mother and raped her niece.
Godsey said the fight for Elkins' freedom should end with the DNA test results and no more battles with prosecutors, who have been steadfast in their belief that Elkins is guilty.
``I think this means a lot to a lot of different people,'' Godsey said. ``For Melinda Elkins, the police and prosecutors put her in a position where she had her mother killed and her niece raped and she basically had to solve the crime.
``She got the right people, brought the team together and finally made it happen. I think it's time for Elkins to be released and for police to open an investigation without blinders and move forward.''
In an interview from prison this week before the DNA tests were announced, Mann denied any involvement in the murder and rape. On the day of the slaying, he said, he was living at Oriana House, a local halfway house, and returned home only briefly the morning after the murder before leaving for Coshocton.
Oriana officials, however, say Mann went AWOL from the facility on June 2, five days before the murder.
About the time of the killing, Mann lived on and off with Tonia Brasiel, the mother of his three daughters, whose house was two doors away from Johnson's home.
Elkins' niece fled to the house and spoke to Brasiel, asking for help after awakening from the bloody beating and rape and discovering her grandmother's body. Brasiel testified in Elkins' trial in 1999.
The Elkins family says Brasiel didn't immediately call police, but instead left the girl outside for several minutes before the two drove to the girl's home about one mile away.
Mann was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2002 for raping three girls, ages 8, 9 and 10, repeatedly over several years. He pleaded guilty after reaching a plea bargain with prosecutors, a move that garnered some media attention for the softness of the prison term. Mann had faced 105 years in prison if convicted at trial.
The prison term was allowed to be served with a previous conviction for assault and robbery. Mann is due to be released in April 2009 from the Toledo Correctional Institution, according to a prison representative.
Brasiel, 33, was a co-defendant in the rape case. She was convicted of child endangering for failing to protect the girls from Mann. She received probation. In 1994, she also was convicted of child endangering.
In a phone interview this week, Mann said he did not meet Elkins until this year, when the two were housed in the same cellblock at the Mansfield Correctional Institution. He said he knew Johnson and Elkins' niece only in passing and had never been inside Johnson's home.
``I never talked to (Elkins) much. We walked the track one day at rec, but that was basically the only time we talked,'' Mann said. ``He basically said the DNA wasn't his and he was getting himself a new trial.''
Melinda Elkins said Mann has been one of the leading suspects developed by the family, their attorneys and Columbus private investigator Martin Yant. She said the family is dismayed by Brasiel's behavior after the killing, especially her reluctance to immediately call police.
Mann, she said, grew as a suspect after his rape conviction.
While Elkins and Mann were in the same cellblock this year, Elkins -- knowing his defense team was collecting DNA samples of suspects -- picked up a cigarette butt discarded by Mann and mailed it to DeLoach. The sample was sent to Cellmark and an exact match was made last week, DeLoach said. The family has spent more than $20,000 on DNA testing, financed primarily from donations.
``I have mixed emotions right now,'' Melinda Elkins said. ``I'm relieved we were able to do this. I made a vow (after Hunter denied the new trial). I said if they won't find the real killer, we will. And now that we've put a face on that person, it's more devastating and more real. Now I can grieve for my mother.''
She said she hopes prosecutors will drop their fight to keep Elkins in prison.
``I hope they accept this and allow us to work together to make sure justice is served,'' she said. ``We don't have to be on opposite sides of the fence now. I hope they release Clarence as soon as possible and charge Earl Mann with this crime.''
Monday, September 26, 2005
From The Ohio Justice Files: